Is this the beginning of the end for vaccination jabs?
Potentially – although sadly it doesn’t mean we’ve almost cured all disease.
However, scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered a way to deliver vaccines through the skin using ultrasound, instead of injecting them with a needle.
Researchers found not only could ultrasound – the same as used in sonograms – be used to push vaccine into the skin, but it may be more effective than needle injections.
Led by Darcy Dunn-Lawless, the team first mixed vaccine molecules with cup-shaped proteins. They then rubbed the liquid onto mice and used an ultrasound machine over the area for around a minute and a half.
The results were very exciting.
They found that at first the ultrasound, which uses soundwaves, pushed the liquid containing into the upper layers of the skin. Once in the skin, the unusual shape of the proteins caused vaccine-filled bubbles to form.
As the ultrasound continued firing sound waves the bubbles burst, releasing the vaccine.
While injections penetrate deeper, delivering the vaccine to muscles beneath the skin, Mr Dunn-Lawless said the shallower ultrasound process in the upper layers of the skin was still sufficient for immunisation.
In a bonus move, as the bubbles burst, they helped remove dead skin cells – allowing more vaccine molecules through in the process.
A number of vaccinations can already be given without a jab, such as nasal sprays and oral drops, but most require injection.
However, the team from the aptly-named biomedical ultrasonics, biotherapy and biopharmaceuticals laboratory (BUBBL) also found an even more surprising benefit to the ultrasound.
Although the ultrasound method delivered around 700 times fewer vaccine molecules compared to traditional injections, the mice that were given the ultrasound injection produced more antibodies.
Mr Dunn-Lawless said this could be because the skin contains more immune cells than muscle, but the team are still investigating.
The findings were presented at the Acoustical Society of America’s 2023 conference in Sydney.