AM in the time of COVID-19Medical Research

How 3D printed microneedles could facilitate COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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A full year into the COVID-19 pandemic and our hopes now lie primarily in the efficient roll out of vaccinations across the globe. Behind the scenes, pharmaceutical companies are working hard to qualify and produce vaccines, and research groups are tackling other issues such as inoculation. One of these groups, a collaborative effort led by Carnegie Mellon University, is developing a COVID-19 vaccine inoculation technique that leverages 3D printed hybrid microneedle arrays (Hybrid-MNA). The innovative approach is both efficient to manufacture and is effective from an immunology standpoint.

In the simplest terms, the Hybrid-MNA technology consists of an intradermal delivery device that provides a small dose of the vaccine (as small as 1/100th of a traditional dosage) to the patient, while still triggering strong and long-lasting immunity against SARS-CoV-2. By delivering a fraction of the dosage, vaccine supplies can be stretched, inoculating more people and helping to mitigate any shortages.

3D printed microneedles COVID-19 vaccine
The Hybrid-MNA could stretch COVID-19 vaccine supplies (Photo: College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University)

At the core of this inoculation solution is a microneedle device based on work pioneered by Burak Ozdoganlar, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the project’s principal investigator. The project is also focused on optimizing and automating the production of the Hybrid-MNAs by leveraging 3D printing and robotic automation. Specifically, the research team is using micro-precision 3D printing technology developed by Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF). The use of these technologies will enable the microneedles to be made cost efficiently.

Another benefit of the Hybrid-MNAs is that they do not require the same degree of cold-chain storage as other vaccines, making them easier to transport and store. This will also contribute to a streamlined rollout. “While there have been impressive advances in modern vaccine technologies, we are still using an 18th century delivery device,” said Karl Ruping, CEO of Tiba Biotech, a partner in the research project. “The Hybrid-MNA approach not only allows smaller dosing, it is pain-free and has the potential for self-administration.”

The innovative research is supported by a $643,359 grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and brings together partners from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research, BMF, Premier Automation and Tiba Biotech. “Our team brings a proven track record of multidisciplinary expertise and experience in immunology, vaccine design, development and delivery, 3D printing, and industrial robotic-automation,” said Ozdoganlar.

John Kawola, CEO of BMF, concluded: “We are thrilled to collaborate with Professor Ozdoganlar and Carnegie Mellon on such an important and impactful project. Our micro-precision 3D printing technology allows for the rapid and precise fabrication of micro needle arrays, resulting in time and cost savings that far exceed traditional manufacturing methods.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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