Tattoos could help deliver cancer vaccines

In collaboration with the Press Association

Tattoos could potentially be used to help deliver cancer vaccines, German scientists have suggested.

Preventative cancer vaccines are a new form of therapy designed to kick-start an immune response in the body. The vaccine encourages the body to produce proteins called antibodies so that, if it encounters cancer cells in the future, it can rapidly put up an immune response.

At present, a vaccine is available to prevent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is responsible for the majority of cases of cervical cancer.

Researchers at the German Cancer Research Centre (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum) in Heidelberg, Germany, trialled a tattooing method on the skin of mice using a coat protein from the HPV virus.

Tattooing causes more inflammation and covers a wider area of skin than standard injections, enabling the vaccine to enter more cells, and the researchers found that it was more effective at delivering the vaccine than the standard injections.

It produced a stronger immune response than an injection, even when proteins used to boost the immune system were included in the injections.

According to the researchers, whose findings are published in the journal Genetic Vaccines and Therapy, mice given three doses of DNA vaccine by tattooing had at least 16 times higher levels of antibodies than a similar dose of immune-boosting proteins injected into the muscles.

Lead researcher Martin Muller commented: "Vaccination with naked DNA has been hampered by its low efficiency.

"Delivery of DNA via tattooing could be a way for a more widespread commercial application of DNA vaccines."

The researchers noted that the method might not appeal to everyone, but suggested that it could be used to deliver therapeutic vaccines in humans and routine vaccination in cattle.