Medical Information Can Be Stored Under The Patient’s Skin

  • Researchers develop a revolutionary way to keep a patient’s vaccination history. 
  • It involves storing data in quantum dot dye and injecting it under the skin along with the vaccine. 
  • The data can be read after up to 5 years using a specially equipped smartphone.

Vaccines save 2-3 million lives annually. However, every year, 1.5 million vaccine-preventable deaths occur due to under-vaccination, especially in developing countries with poor healthcare infrastructure.

Since these regions lack accurate medical record-keeping systems, it becomes difficult to figure out who needs a particular vaccine. This often results in the application of additional, unnecessary vaccine doses, leaving children at risk for contracting infectious diseases.

Now, researchers at MIT have developed a new way to keep a patient’s vaccination history. It involves storing information in a pattern of dye and delivering it under the skin along with the vaccine.

This new dye is made of nanocrystals called quantum dots. It remains active for 5 years under the skin and emits light in the near-infrared spectrum, which can be detected by handheld devices such as smartphones.

It could be extremely helpful in regions where vaccination certificates are not available to make informed decisions about administering vaccines, and thus healthcare professionals have to rely on parental recall. The technology could enable quick detection of the patient’s medical history to ensure each child is properly vaccinated.

Decentralized Medical Record

The team built a new kind of copper-based quantum dots that emits near-infrared spectrum. The dots, which are approximately 4 nanometers wide, are enclosed into biocompatible microparticles so that they remain in the desired position after being injected under the skin.

Reference: Science Translational Medicine | DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.aay7162 | MIT

These sphere-shaped particles are 20 micrometers in diameter. Therefore, they can be delivered via a microneedle patch (there is no need for conventional needle and syringe)

The microneedles are 1.5 millimeters in length. When the patch is applied to the skin, they release their payload in nearly 100 seconds.

Medical Information Under Patient's SkinImage credit: Second Bay Studios

The pattern (dye) delivered by microneedles in the skin cannot be seen with the naked eye but a specially equipped smartphone can detect its near-infrared light.

Healthcare workers can customize the patch to inject different patterns associated with the type of vaccine being delivered. It could be detected after up to 5 years of sun exposure.

Is It Safe?

The team tested this approach in rats. One group of rats received a polio vaccine along with the quantum dots, while the other group was injected with a conventional polio vaccine. Both groups showed similar immune responses, confirming that the dye doesn’t affect the efficiency of the vaccine.

Since the dye is encapsulated in a biocompatible polymer named Poly(vinyl alcohol), it is safe to use in this way. However, researchers will do more safety tests before applying this to patients.

Currently, they are trying to increase the volume of data a single pattern can store. This would allow them to encode more data such as the vaccine batch and date of vaccine administration.

Read: A Safe, Stretchable Display That Sticks To Human Skin

Researchers also believe that their technique could open new avenues for biosensing, data storage, and vaccine applications that could radically improve the way of providing medical care.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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