Texas Tech researches vaccination through tattoos

Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 10:15 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - For most people, tattoos probably don’t make them think of vaccines. For Idera Lawal, his project to get into the Chemical Engineering doctorate program at Texas Tech had his gears turning on how to vaccinate someone using a tattoo gun.

After six weeks of literature review, designing experiments, and getting insights from those results - he developed a passion for the concept.

“Usually the project that you’re giving for your qualifiers, typically Ph.D. students go, ‘Okay, now that’s gone. Let me continue with what I was doing,’” Lawal said. “But then I took interest in like what was my qualifying exam, right.”

Lawal explains an intradermal vaccine is the most popular because of how effective it is.

“The main goal is to target and transfect as many cells as possible,” Lawal said.

He says the skin is rich with immune cells. Tattoo guns are the perfect candidate because it’s many needles all punching the skin fast.

“With the tattooing process you have, you have to cover like a large area and so this is kind of like the point we’re getting to, so you cover a large area - a large area means more immune cells right,” Lawal said.

In his research, he puts a gel right under the tattoo gun that models what a human’s skin response would be. A camera then projects what’s happening onto a monitor so he can see it more clearly.

“We investigate really fast processes and we slow them down, and then we see what happens in these very very small periods of time,” Lawal said.

He says with one in three Americans having tattoos, this could spark interest in building the immune system.

“It’s almost like an incentive to you know want to get the vaccine, because it’s like, ‘Did you get the vaccine?’ Oh yeah, it’s right here,’ right,” Lawal said.

For Lawal, this was right up his alley because he’s always loved tattoos. Recently, he’s been able to express that more.

Idera Lawal
Idera Lawal(KCBD, Peyton Toups)

“Tattoos are kind of frowned upon back home in Nigeria, where I’m from, right,” Lawal said. “Now that I’m able to, you know I feel like a better explanation is, do what I want.”

He said he would get a vaccine through a tattoo.

Lawal says this concept is in the very beginning stages, but could be a possibility in the future.