UCC scientists developing patch to fight malaria

Wednesday 03 September 2014 16.42
UCC scientists are developing a patch to fight malaria
UCC scientists are developing a patch to fight malaria

A new patch has been developed by scientists at University College Cork which could improve the effectiveness of a vaccine against malaria.

The device, which delivers small doses of the vaccine through tiny micro-needles, has delivered positive results during pre-clinical testing. 

Developed by researchers at the School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacology and the Tyndall National Institute in UCC the patch has an array of tiny silicon microneedles which are able to deliver the vaccine through temporary pores in the skin without causing pain to the patient.

The scientists are now seeking to commercialise it, and are planning to travel to Silicon Valley in the coming week to meet potential investors.

The vaccine is delivered in a live adenovirus, similar to that which causes a common cold, but which is engineered to be safer and to deliver a protein from the malaria causing parasite.

Adenoviruses, however, can themselves provoke a significant immune response from the body, and as a result they cannot be used repeatedly to deliver a vaccine because the immune system blocks them out.

The team's research, however, published in the journal Scientific Reports, outlines how the patch gets around the problem by overcoming the pre-existing immunity. 

By combining the adenovirus with the microneedle technology, the researchers found they could induce higher levels of immunity against malaria with lower doses of the vaccine.

They found that if the microneedle patch was used in the first instance, the same adenovirus based vaccine could be used repeatedly, and that it would induce potent and highly protective immune responses in a pre-clinical situation.

The scientists must next test the device in a clinical setting.

To do this, they must attract investment to cover the high costs associated with the phase.

As a result, lead researcher, Dr Anne Moore, will travel to Silicon Valley next week to meet venture capitalists and leading technology companies with a view to commercialising the research.  

"What's exciting from this work is that administration of this vaccine with the microneedle patch did not induce this strong anti-adenovirus immunity, even though very potent immunity to the malaria antigen is generated," Dr Moore said in a statement.