No More Needles
Stony Brook postdoc unveils vaccination patch
Courtesy of Stony Brook University
About a fifth of our population fear getting their shots. But the big, scary needle isn’t the only problem with today’s immunization process — transportation is tough, administration is a doctoral skill and disposal is hazardous.
Stony Brook alumna and postdoc scholar Kasia Sawicka is ready to solve it all with her gold medal-winning invention, the Immuno-Matrix skin patch, which can deliver vaccines and other medications intradermally (into the skin), without a needle.
“The greatest thing about getting an injection is when the Band-Aid goes on and you get a lollipop,” said Sawicka. “What if from now on, all vaccines were just Band-Aids and lollipops?”
Not only is it painless, and about as scary as a sticker, the Immuno-Matrix patch can be self-administered, is easily portable, and doesn’t require such stringent, refrigerated storage conditions as traditional vaccines. The patch and its solid form of vaccine are stable at room temperature for at least eight weeks.
“The ease of administration and the fact that it’s so easy to distribute could potentially shift the paradigm of immunization,” said Sawicka.
Plus, the patch doesn’t produce biohazardous waste like the needles and syringes of traditional immunization — a tremendous bonus when facing an infectious pandemic like the recent outbreak of Ebola in some West African countries.
“It’s not just Ebola; it’s any pandemic,” said Sawicka. “The current vaccine system falls flat on its face because it’s inadequate to distribute to large populations in a timely manner, especially in the developing world due to a lack of infrastructure.”
Sawicka shared her patch and its incredible benefits with the judges at the Collegiate Inventors Competition on November 17 in Washington, D.C. where she competed against six teams of graduate students to earn the coveted top prize — $15,000, a new set of Bridgestone tires and a shiny gold medal, of course.
“The greatest honor of winning this competition is that the judges are people I consider to be my heroes,” said Sawicka of those who gave her the gold, including Thomas Fogarty, inventor of the embolectomy catheter, and Marcian Hoff Jr., the man who led Intel’s team in designing the first single-chip computer CPU.
“My efforts were recognized by innovative giants whose inventions have completely changed our world,” she said.
Changing our world for the better seems a sure thing for Sawicka’s patent-pending patch, the product of a decade-long course of development at Stony Brook.
The Immuno-Matrix patch is composed of nanofibers made from the common polymer polyvinylpyrrolidone, or PVP for short. PVP has had many applications over the years, including the original sticky, absorptive hairspray used to create popular hairdos in the ‘50s.
Creating a matrix of PVP nanofibers was Sawicka’s first step, and resulted in her first invite to the Collegiate Inventors Competition when she was an engineering chemistry undergraduate in 2004 — but no win.
“Although the material was cool, its applicability wasn't clear,” said Sawicka. “I did walk away with a sense of inspiration to keep at it.”
That inspiration led Sawicka to gold, a testament to the passion of inventors.
“After 10 years of developing this technology into what it is today, winning this competition is almost a validation of the persistent pursuit that's taken over my life,” said Sawicka. “It's a boost of energy, inspiration and hopefully added ammunition for the road ahead, where I plan to explore the commercial applications of my work.”
During those 10 years, Sawicka not only developed the patch, but also earned her bachelor’s in engineering chemistry in 2004, her master’s in chemistry in 2005, and her doctorate in biomedical engineering in 2014, all from Stony Brook University.
Despite earning her doctorate and achieving gold medal glory, Sawicka still is humble.
“My greatest hope is to see the patch brought to practical clinical use.”
Here’s also hoping those clinics have plenty of lollipops to pair with Sawicka’s patches.
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