This Spiky Patch Could Invisibly Record Vaccination History Under Skin
But the technology raises several ethical concerns that could stymie its progress
Microneedle patches, like this one that measures about a centimeter across, could be used to deliver nanoparticles when pressed to the skin for two minutes.
The human body is an extraordinary record keeper. Tattooed into its skin are the scars of old wounds; archived in the molecules of the immune system are the traces of past infections.
But when that history gets translated into written medical records, things can quickly get dicey. Every lost sheet of paper or inaccurately tallied statistic can raise a person’s risk of receiving inadequate care—an especially pressing issue in low- and middle-income countries, where health care resources are often scarce or inaccessible.
Now, a team led by MIT scientists has come forward with a bold proposition that could write a legible vaccination history back into the body’s repertoire. Solving medicine’s record-keeping riddle, they argue, might just involve injecting patterns of invisible nanoparticles under the skin. Like QR codes, these designs could be scanned and interpreted by smartphones, and someday allow health providers to archive and access patients’ past vaccinations without the muss and fuss of external records.
The tattoo-esque technology, described today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, is still in the early stages of development, and hasn’t yet been tested in humans. But the team’s experiments in rats suggest that these medical marks are both safe and long-lasting, and can be administered alongside vaccines without compromising efficacy.
If the team’s research progresses, future efforts will focus on delivering the technology to children in low- and middle-income countries, where many still rely on paper cards or certificates to track their vaccination history. But other experts caution that both technical and ethical hurdles might stymie its implementation—including in places where new tools to combat the spread of disease are needed most.
A schematic showing how a new product could encode a person's vaccination history without the need for medical records. A micro-needle patch delivers fluorescent nano-particles beneath the skin, leaving a pattern that can be visualized with a smartphone that can detect infrared light.
“Figuring out how to keep better track of vaccination is incredibly important from a health systems and public health perspective,” says Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Nancy Kass, who wasn’t involved in the project. But injectable nano-particles that reveal private information about a patient “could be ripe for misinterpretations and rumors,” she says. That’s especially true given the fraught history of vaccination in countries at all socioeconomic strata, including the United States.
With similar concerns in mind, the researchers, led by bioengineers Robert Langer and Ana Jaklenec, are preparing to conduct surveys to assess whether the invisible tattoos would be accepted by locals in high-priority regions. Backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, interviews in Malawi, Bangladesh, Benin and Kenya will begin early next year.
“We want people to be comfortable,” says study author Kevin McHugh, a bioengineer at Rice University. “The goal is widespread adoption.”
Though somewhat comparable to tattoos, the marks themselves are nothing like traditional ink. Delivered by a microneedle patch—a four-by-four grid of tiny, 1.5-millimeter-long spikes that hurt less than typical injections—they’re made up of nanoparticles that are undetectable in visible light, glowing only when viewed in infrared.
Over the course of two minutes, the nanoparticles diffuse from within the microneedles to a shallow layer of skin, where they’re deposited in simple patterns of dots, each smaller than your garden-variety freckle. The patch is then removed, leaving behind a subtle mark that can still be imaged after being exposed to the equivalent of five years’ worth of sunlight, the team’s experiments show.
“This ties the vaccine to the record itself, and ties the record to the person,” McHugh says. “It can never be lost, it can never be counterfeited.”
From there, reading the dots becomes a lot like scanning a QR code. Though invisible to the naked eye, dots stamped onto pieces of pig and human skin lit up in clear patterns—a circle, rectangle or cross—when viewed through a smartphone fitted with an infrared filter, the team found. In theory, each symbol could denote a different type of injection, McHugh says, and be read through a simple machine learning algorithm that the team’s already written and tested. Even with multiple shots, he adds, the marks are small enough that “your whole array of vaccines could fit within a couple inches.”
Although the nanoparticles themselves don’t contain medically relevant drugs, the researchers safely delivered them to rats alongside a polio vaccine, which seemed to still confer its protective benefits. That’s the ultimate goal, McHugh says: to always administer the medicine and the marker in tandem, so there’s no risk of getting one without the other. And when the team scanned the rats nine months later, they could still identify the symbols the microneedle patch had left.
Chey Barnes comment:
I've been a harbinger for many years now, warning about forced microchipping programs. It is becoming more and more evident that it is only a matter of time; and now we can predict exactly how they are going to pull it off.
First let's look at the "pandemic" Covid 19. This large scale psy op experiment accomplishes much for the covert power structures that rule the world.
1) It gives them valuable data on how the public will react to their freedom being instantly removed; giving them insight into just how much pain we can tolerate.
2) It will systematically destroy small business; large multi-national corporations will receive subsidies and be bailed out. But woe to the small business owner; mom and pop shops are soon to be a thing of the past.
3) It acclimates the masses into accepting a forced microchip/vaccine.
4) It furthers a cashless society.
We can pretty much look forward to a forced inoculation under the guise of a vaccine to protect us during next really big pandemic which I believe is yet to come. Money is dirty, cash is contaminated, lets get rid of all this tainted dirty cash and usher in a new era of electronic commerce. Nevermind the self replicating nanos lurking inside the Trojan Horse.
This my friends is a far scarier reality than any virus.