Brain and Body

Scientists Have Figured out How to Make Inhalable Vaccines Using Sound Waves

January 13, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Sound wave


For the first time in 50 years, Australian researchers have developed a new form of hybridized sound wave. The waves could open up new possibilities for stem cell treatments as they are gentle enough to manipulate stem cells in non-disruptive ways.

These waves are called “surface-reflected bulk waves” since they combine two existing types of waves: bulk and surface. Bulk waves act as one vibrating entity, while surface waves are more similar to rolling ocean waves that don’t really affect the depths underneath. By making a hybrid of these two types, researchers have developed a powerful wave with high frequency but low amplitude.

All of the mechanics aside, the most exciting result of these hybrid sound waves is that they can be used in biomedical applications.

With the help of a nebulizer device, drugs and vaccines can be delivered directly to the body. The scientists have already carried out some tests, and found that a fine mist can be inhaled into the lungs, thus delivering the treatments.

Before this breakthrough, surface acoustic waves had been used to pump and mix liquids at very small scales, but the process was extremely slow.

“We have used the new sound waves to slash the time required for inhaling vaccines through the nebuliser device, from 30 minutes to as little as 30 seconds,” said co-author Dr. Amgad Rezk of RMIT's Micro/Nano Research Laboratory in a press release.

SEE ALSO: New Drug Will Turn Our Own Bodies Into Vaccine Factories

The combination of the surface and bulk waves enables drugs to be administered at a rate of up to 5 milliliter per minute, which is a “huge difference” from the previous rate of 0.2 milliliter per minute, according to Rezk.

He says that the research opens the possibility of using stem cells more efficiently to treat lung disease since this new inhalable hybrid-wave method sends stem cells straight to a specific site within the lung to repair damaged tissue. “This is a real game changer for stem cell treatment in the lungs,” Rezk says.

Stem cells are extremely fragile, but the gentle waves enable the cells to be manipulated without causing damage.

'It's basically 'yelling' at the liquid so it vibrates, breaking it down into vapour,' said Rezk.

This exciting technology is all possible because of a new device called HYDRA, which converts electricity passing through a chip into vibrating sound waves that break down the liquid drugs into a spray.

HYDRA is an improvement of the advanced Respite nebulizer that’s already in use at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, delivering precise drug doses to asthma patients and needle-free vaccinations for infants.

"The combination of surface and bulk wave means they work in harmony and produce a much more powerful wave," Rezk explains.

Needle-free, inhalable vaccines? It almost sounds too good to be true.

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