National Geographic Society Newsroom

“Nanopatch” Administers Vaccines Painlessly

Earlier this year Rolex announced the five winners of the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, who are being honored in New Delhi, India,  on November 27. This profile looks at the work of Mark Kendall, bioengineer and innovative scientist who is developing the Nanopatch, a syringe-free method of giving people vaccines. “Mark Kendall is developing an...

Earlier this year Rolex announced the five winners of the 2012 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, who are being honored in New Delhi, India,  on November 27. This profile looks at the work of Mark Kendall, bioengineer and innovative scientist who is developing the Nanopatch, a syringe-free method of giving people vaccines.

“Mark Kendall is developing an inexpensive and highly efficient way to reduce the annual death toll of millions of people worldwide from infectious diseases,” says Rolex in materials for this week’s Rolex Awards ceremony. “Many of these fatalities can be prevented by vaccines, but the traditional syringe-and-needle method – invented in 1853 – is holding vaccines back. First, this method injects vaccine into muscle, which has few immune cells, missing our immune “sweet spot”. It is expensive and presents numerous difficulties – with vaccines requiring refrigeration in many countries where electricity supplies are uncertain.”

Says Rolex:

“With the “Nanopatch” that Professor Kendall is developing at a cutting-edge bio-engineering research institute at the University of Queensland, in Australia, a host of problems linked to the traditional needle and syringe will be swept away.

“An eminent bio-engineer with an impressive record as an innovative scientist during his eight years in a senior post at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Kendall was persuaded by the University of Queensland to return to his native Brisbane six years ago to be one of the research leaders at the new Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology where he is developing the Nanopatch.

“His Rolex Award should allow Kendall to fast-track development of the Nanopatch for the developing world, where most deaths from infectious diseases occur.”


A laboratory scientist, Nicole Van der Burg, inspects some Nanopatches in the laboratory of Vaxxas, which was set up to develop the commercial arm of the project. Brisbane, Australia, 2012. Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Julian Kingma.

“The Nanopatch, which is about a square centimetre in size, places vaccine directly into areas where immune cells are abundant. Most current vaccines are injected by syringe, requiring a relatively large dose of vaccine per shot – and raising potential problems with needle injuries, contamination and disposal.

“The syringe-free method being developed by Kendall uses an applicator which propels the Nanopatch and its microprojections – painlessly – onto a superficial layer of the skin where target immune cells are most numerous. The process does not draw blood, so the risk of infection is greatly reduced.

“The Nanopatch is coated with dry vaccine, so no refrigeration is required. This, together with lower vaccine doses, drastically reduces all costs, including transport. In the long term, Nanopatches could probably be administered by community workers or teachers, thus avoiding the need for trained medical staff to be present.

“Kendall and his team of researchers in Brisbane have successfully tested the Nanopatch on mice. With funds from his Rolex Award, he will now focus on testing and finessing the patch for the developing world, beginning with a mock trial, using Nanopatches without vaccine in Papua New Guinea to test how well they perform in developing world conditions.”


Professor Mark Kendall uses the device he designed and patented to attach a Nanopatch to a child’s forearm. Brisbane, Australia, 2012. Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Julian Kingma.


“After refining and improving the Nanopatch further, Kendall aims to launch clinical trials in PNG to vaccinate women against human papilloma virus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer, a leading cause of death in young women in the developing world.

“Professor Kendall already has a strong record of achievement, having helped pioneer an earlier skin targeting technology called the Gene Gun (firing vaccine particles to the skin using rocket technology) – from idea through to product – during his tenure at Oxford. If trials of his Nanopatch are successful, it is likely to be on the market in 10 years and vaccines will be adapted for use with the device.

“Described in the Australian media as a “paradigm shift” and “game-changing technology” in the field of vaccination, the Nanopatch has the potential to revolutionize the process of administering vaccines, making the process far easier, cheaper and much less intimidating for the many people who fear needles. Millions of lives are likely to be saved thanks to the ingenuity and determination of Mark Kendall and his team.”


A stereo microscope (pictured) allows Professor Mark Kendall to study a Nanopatch with the high degree of detail necessary to produce this microtechnology. Brisbane, Australia, 2012. Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Julian Kingma.


“The Rolex Award has already helped spark an acceleration towards use of the Nanopatches in the developing world,” says Mark Kendall of his team’s progress on his project in the past few months. “We have formed an outstanding project team, including collaborators on the ground in Papua New Guinea. We have designed and manufactured our very first Nanopatch applicators specifically for developing world use.”

The team travelled to Papua New Guinea in mid-October 2012, taking three prototypes of the Nanopatch which were given to local health care workers to apply to hospital patients in what Kendall describes as “a usability of device trial”. The health-care workers received detailed instructions and were observed as they applied the Nanopatches. This, along with tests on the packaging and transport of the devices, is part of the rigorous process of finessing the Nanopatch and all associated processes for use in the developing world. The results of the trial are now being evaluated.

In other developments, a partnership has been formed with Merck, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers. “This is an important step forward in accelerating the Nanopatch along the pipeline to become a vaccine delivery product,” Kendall says.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn