A newly developed vaccination patch could signal an end to the need for painful needle injections, US researchers have found.
The potential significance of the technique goes further than avoiding uncomfortable jabs, as the patch also boosts the effectiveness of immunisation against diseases like the flu, the researchers said on Monday.
The team from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, writing in Nature Medicine, said the patch could one day help wipe out fatal diseases.
"Our hope is that the influenza vaccine patch will enable more people to become vaccinated," Mark Prausnitz, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the leading researcher on the project told Al Jazeera.
"Not only because we get rid of the hypodermic needle, which many if not most people dislike, but also because it will enable people to administer the patch to themselves," he said.
Each patch has 100 "micro-needles" on its surface. The needles are just over half a millimetre long and when they penetrate the skin, they dissolve.
"The skin on our bodies is a good barrier, things don't normally absorb into our skin very well and that is why a hypodermic needle needs to be used," he said.
"So what we have done is make very small needles, microscopically small needles that can pierce into the skin and in that way allow the vaccine to enter the body.
"They are so small you could barely see them, and barely feel them."
The researchers have been loading these needles with influenza vaccine and testing them on mice.
They say so far the results have been encouraging.
The patches tested to be more effective than using the standard needle injection technique.
As tests continue, researchers hope the patch will make life-saving healthcare available for the first time, for millions of people in the developing world as people will eventually be able to vaccinate themselves.
"You do not have go to the clinic to see a doctor, but rather go to a pharmacy or even get this patch in the mail," Prausnitz said.
Although the study only looked at the flu vaccine, it is hoped the technology could be useful for a range of other illnesses and would not cost any more than using a needle.