Engineering undergraduate wins Telegraph STEM Award Healthcare category for vaccine delivery device

Fourth year Engineering undergraduate Imogen Cowley has won the Healthcare category in the 2018 Telegraph STEM Awards.
Engineering undergraduate wins Telegraph STEM Award Healthcare category for vaccine delivery device

Imogen Cowley

The Telegraph STEM Awards have 6 categories - Automotive tech, Defence tech, Design, Digital, Healthcare, and Innovation. The Healthcare category asked entrants to propose an idea for how to prevent or treat pneumonia in children in developing countries.

Imogen’s idea is a novel vaccine delivery device, called the SnapVaccine, designed to side-step the need for continuous refrigeration that traditional vaccines require. This “cold chain” is a major obstacle for distribution of vaccines in more remote areas where the necessary transport and energy infrastructure is not in place.

The device could make immunisation against pneumonia more accessible in developing countries. In 2015, 1 in 6 childhood deaths were caused by pneumonia, even though an effective vaccine has been available since 1977. Only 31% of the global population are vaccinated, in part due to healthcare facilities not being accessible to people in certain areas and the multiple visits needed to achieve immunity. The technology also has a high potential for application to other vaccines and drugs.

Imogen says of her award, “Winning this category means I will spend some time working with the category sponsor, GlaxoSmithKline, and also means I have a shot in the final.” The overall winner, who will be announced in June, will receive £25,000 and career mentoring.

SnapVaccine prototypeSnapVaccine would contain the molecular components and DNA instructions to build a pneumococcal surface protein (PspA or PspB), all freeze dried in powder form, which means they can be stored and distributed at room temperature.

It incorporates an innovative 2-step snap mechanism and a contained mixing system, to allow the user to mix the components of the vaccine at the point of delivery. The vaccine is then delivered through microneedles in a stick-on patch which can be administered by an untrained person.

PspA is already being investigated as a new pneumonia vaccine option, and has shown promising early results, such as successful pneumonia protection in mice. Microneedle technology is already attracting much research and investment – a flu vaccine microneedle patch has already been developed and has had good results in human trials.

SnapVaccine was inspired by the simple, user-friendly mechanism for contained chemical mixing found in glow-sticks.