Researchers develop new microneedle array combination vaccine delivery system

Novel vaccine delivery technology will contribute to efforts to develop universal vaccines and improve global immunization capabilities essential for combating coronavirus, reports the Journal of Investigative Dermatology

Philadelphia, April 21, 2020

In parallel to their current work on a potential coronavirus vaccine, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have developed a new vaccine delivery system for vaccines using live or attenuated viral vectors: a finger-tip sized patch that contains 400 tiny needles, each just half of one millimeter. Their progress is reported in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, published by Elsevier.

The needles, made from sugar and the specific cargo being delivered, comprise a three-dimensional (3D), multicomponent dissolving microneedle array (MNA). While feeling like having Velcro pressed against the skin, the vaccine would penetrate the upper level of the skin, absorb moisture from the skin, and then dissolve and release molecules that prompt the immune system to make antibodies to attack the virus. In addition to antibody production, this technology has the potential to improve cellular immune responses in patients and expand global immunization capabilities. It is clear evidence of the broad reach and contribution of skin scientists, even extending into pandemic vaccine design.

Explaining the importance of this work, lead author Louis D. Falo, Jr., MD, PhD, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, explains, “We are developing this new delivery technology because while traditional vaccines are often effective in inducing antibody responses, they frequently fail to generate the cellular responses that are essential to prevent or treat many cancers or infectious diseases.”

Macro-zoomed image of the microneedle array vaccine skin delivery patch
Microneedle Array Vaccine: The vaccine is delivered into the skin through a fingertip-sized patch of microscopic needles (Credit: UPMC).

The skin is an ideal vaccination site because it contains an immune network that is highly responsive and encourages the generation of strong and long-lasting immunity.

Dissolvable MNAs are designed to mechanically penetrate the superficial cutaneous layers, rapidly dissolve upon insertion into the skin, and deliver uniform quantities of biocargo to a defined 3D space within the skin. This enables localized delivery of low amounts of drugs or vaccines to achieve high concentrations in this specific skin microenvironment.

Using in vivo mouse models, investigators generated the 3D multicomponent dissolvable vaccine platform combining a live adenovirus-encoded antigen with an added component, polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (poly I:C), an immunostimulant used to simulate the skin immune system. This successfully induced both antibody responses and stronger cellular immune responses.

Induction of antigen-specific cellular immunity is a point of emphasis in the vaccine field, as evidenced by recent efforts to generate “universal vaccines” for mutable infectious diseases like influenza, HIV, and coronaviruses by targeting infected cells.

“Remarkably,” says Dr. Falo, “the MNA vaccine platforms incorporating both antigen-encoding adenovirus and poly I:C augmented the destruction of targeted cells significantly compared to MNA-delivery of the same adenovirus alone.” The researchers also found that the MNAs integrating both poly I:C and adenovirus retained their immunogenicity after one month of storage at 4⁰ C. MNA-delivered vaccines also have advantages in their ease of fabrication, application, and storage compared to other vaccine delivery platforms.

“Our results suggest that multicomponent MNA vaccine platforms uniquely enable delivery of both adjuvant and antigen-encoding viral vectors to the same skin microenvironment, resulting in improved immunogenicity including cellular immune responses,” comments Dr. Falo. “This MNA delivery approach could improve the effectiveness of adenoviral vaccines now in development for the prevention of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”


Notes for editors
The publication is “Improved cutaneous genetic immunization by microneedle array delivery of an adjuvanted adenovirus vaccine,” by Geza Erdos, Stephen C. Balmert, Cara Donahue Carey, Gabriel D. Falo, Nikita A. Patel, Jiying Zhang, Andrea Gambotto, Emrullah Korkmaz, and Louis D. Falo Jr. ( It will appear in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology published by Elsevier and will be openly available upon publication.

Full text of this publication is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Theresa Monturano, Senior Publisher, Elsevier, at +1 215 239 3711 or Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Dr. Louis D. Falo, Jr. at or Erin Hare, UPMC Media Relations, at

Also of interest
E. Kim et al., Microneedle array delivered recombinant coronavirus vaccines: Immunogenicity and rapid translational development, EBioMedicine (2020),, published by Elsevier.

Elsevier’s Novel Coronavirus Information Center provides the latest early stage and peer-reviewed research on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. All resources are free to access and include guidelines for clinicians and patients. The Information Center links to the Coronavirus Hub on ScienceDirect, with more than 21,000 articles relevant to coronavirus, SARS, and MERS freely available. The center also links to a Healthcare Hub with resources for clinicians treating COVID-19 patients.

About Journal of Investigative Dermatology
The Journal of Investigative Dermatology (JID) publishes high impact reports describing original research related to all aspects of cutaneous biology and skin disease. Descriptions of important findings that result from basic, translational, or clinical research are published. Clinical research can include, but is not limited to, interventional trials, genetics studies, epidemiology, and health services research.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact
Theresa Monturano, Senior Publisher
+1 215 239 3711