Soon, people can store their vaccination records in their body itself. Researchers are making progress in developing a novel way to record a patient’s vaccination history: storing the data in a pattern of dye, invisible to the naked eye, which is delivered under the skin at the same time as the vaccine.

Though it has not been tested in the humans, work to date with rats and human cadaver skin has been promising. The new dye consists of nanocrystals called quantum dots, which can remain for at least five years under the skin, where it emits near-infrared light that can be detected by a specially equipped smartphone. The study has been published in Science Translational Medicine. 

The copper-based dots are only about four nanometres in diameter but are encased in biocompatible microparticles that form spheres about 20 microns in diameter. This allows the dye to remain in place under the skin after being injected, the researchers say.

The researchers designed their dye to be delivered by a microneedle patch rather than a traditional syringe and needle. Such patches are now being developed to deliver vaccines for measles, rubella, and other diseases, and the researchers showed that their dye could be easily incorporated into these patches.

When the patch is applied to the skin, the microneedles, which are 1.5 millimetres long, partially dissolve, releasing their payload within about two minutes.

By selectively loading microparticles into microneedles, the patches deliver a pattern in the skin that is invisible to the naked eye but can be scanned with a smartphone that has the infrared filter removed. The patch can be customized to imprint different patterns that correspond to the type of vaccine delivered.

“It’s possible someday that this ‘invisible’ approach could create new possibilities for data storage, biosensing, and vaccine applications that could improve how medical care is provided, particularly in the developing world,” says Robert Langer, one of the senior authors of the study. 

The researchers now plan to survey health care workers in developing nations in Africa to get input on the best way to implement this type of vaccination record keeping. They are also working on expanding the amount of data that can be encoded in a single pattern, allowing them to include information such as the date of vaccine administration and the lot number of the vaccine batch.

“Storage, access, and control of medical records is an important topic with many possible approaches,” says Mark Prausnitz, chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, who was not involved in the research. “This study presents a novel approach where the medical record is stored and controlled by the patient within the patient’s skin in a minimally invasive and elegant way,” he adds. 

Source: MIT News, Cosmos Magazine. 

Biocompatible near-infrared quantum dots delivered to the skin by microneedle patches record vaccination
   Send article as PDF