Health Column: Removing the sting from vaccinations

Imagine your child going in for immunizations but being able to skip the painful sting of a needle and go straight to the Band-Aid and lollipop.

It’s a biomedical technology in the making: a needle-less vaccination administered simply by applying a special skin patch. 

Coined the Immuno-Matrix, the innovation is being developed by Kasia Sawicka, who recently earned a doctorate degree in biomedical engineering from SUNY/Stony Brook.

“I discovered the technology 10 years ago as an undergrad, but I didn’t yet know how to apply it,” Ms. Sawicka said. “I have spent my whole graduate career trying to figure out where it would be most useful.”

Ms. Sawicka said Immuno-Matrix is currently being tested on lab rats. The skin patch allows for the transfer of molecules once thought to be too large to be effectively absorbed through the outermost layers of the skin, she said.

“It opens up a whole avenue of different applications,” she said. “Just think about all the biohazardous waste, the needles and the syringes that can be saved.”

She also said that administering antigens — which trigger your body to build immunity against a disease — through the skin could provide the same immunity as a regular vaccine with a much smaller dose.

Ms. Sawicka, who grew up taking Polish classes in downtown Riverhead, said researchers around the world have been working to develop similar technology for decades.

The only variation currently available requires the use of micro needles, she said, which still result in blood transmission and biohazardous waste.

“Our current vaccination system sort of falls short, especially under the time constraints of a spreading pandemic,” she said. “We have sort of been reminded of a pandemic with the Ebola outbreak. What if we were able to bring vaccinations to the developing world, places where they are not as readily available?”

So far, Ms. Sawicka’s technology has been tested to combat the flu, anthrax and pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

“It is great to have this greater picture in mind, and after hearing from own family members — my two nieces and nephew who are so excited — you sort of realize how much pain I can potentially save this world,” she said. “I am just so happy.”

In November, Ms. Sawicka’s work on Immuno-Matrix won her first prize in the graduate division of the national Collegiate Inventors Competition. The contest pitted her against 35 students from 13 colleges across the U.S. She now hopes to partner with a biomedical research organization interested in investing in her technology.

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