May 15, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

We keep writing about the risks involved with nanotechnology, so it’s nice to be able to highlight a potential benefit. Andrew Schneider reports for AOL News that researchers from the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have developed a “nanopatch” that can deliver vaccines more effectively than intramuscular injection:

[University of Queensland Professor Mark] Kendall told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the nanopatch is designed to place vaccines directly into the skin, where a “rich body of immune cells are.” A needle, by contrast, injects vaccines into muscles with few immune cells. As a result, the vaccines delivered by nanopatch are more effective, he said.

Cheap, simple, and effective vaccine administration has the potential to dramatically increase immunization rates in underresourced areas. Currently, many agencies struggle to fund struggle to fund vaccination programs that rely on refrigerated vaccines administered by trained professionals. Kendall also points out that easier transportation and administration of nanopatches can speed vaccination when the next pandemic develops. (The kind of fast response he envisions would also require us to overhaul our current vaccine-production system, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Such worthwhile applications of nanotechnology reminds us why we need to get this right — study the risks of nanotechnology, and put appropriate safeguards in place before nanoparticles are omnipresent. If several years from now nanoparticles have become the next asbestos, the chances of successfully promoting this kind of promising application will shrink.

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