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Tattoos, tomorrow’s vaccines?

Published on October 21, 2017 at 14:41 / Updated on September 20, 2022 at 17:48

Are tattoos simply a matter of image? Perhaps not! A group of German scientists thinks that the tattooing technique could be used to administer vaccines. As no ink would be used, the tattoo would not leave a permanent mark. However, the vibrating needle causes inflammation, along with a wound of approximately one centimetre square, which is more painful than the classic vaccine.

A traditional vaccine is composed of a solution that contains viruses, bacteria, parasites (killed or severely weakened), fragments of these microbes or the toxic substances (toxins) they secrete. Currently, there are vaccines we can either drink or inject. The introduction of weak doses of these foreign substances forces the body to manufacture defences against their intrusion without, for as much, triggering the disease.

Many think that a new vaccination approach would likely produce better results. With these new types of vaccine, fragments of DNA, rather than antigens, would be injected to stimulate an immune response. Until now however, the application of this concept in humans, via traditional intramuscular injections, has proven quite disappointing.

During the studies that were conducted with mice, “tattooed” vaccines have nevertheless produced sixteen times more antibodies than a normal injection in the muscle tissue. The level of antibodies indicates the strength of the immune system’s response. Scientists therefore think that the tattooed vaccine might induce a better response because a larger amount of tissue is damaged and this affects the immune cells already on the look out for antigens.

This type of tattoo would only be useful for certain types of vaccines, but could serve in delivering therapeutic vaccines aimed at certain cancers and other serious diseases. Such therapeutic vaccines are conceived to treat a disease, not only to prevent it. Tattooed vaccines could also be used to administer routine animal vaccination. Now this is definitely a positive use of the tattooing technique.

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