About 1.5 million people die due to a lack of vaccinations each year. These tragic deaths occur at greater rates in developing countries than in industrialized countries (despite blatant social media misinformation campaigns about the dangers of vaccinations). We write quite often about the benefits achieved from electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs). But what about countries where no form of record storage infrastructure exists, paper or electronic? This creates a major challenge for healthcare professionals who want to launch vaccination campaigns.

As presented in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine, MIT researchers developed an injectable dye that contains quantum dots, which are nanocrystals with unique properties. The team demonstrated how the dye, can be use to create patterns under a patient’s skin. The patterns emit near-infrared light that is only visible with specially equipped smartphones. The dots remain under the skin for at least five years, creating a detectable vaccination record.

The dye is delivered using patches containing microneedles; the same patches can deliver different vaccines. The microneedles are made of sugar which dissolve harmlessly in just minutes after delivering their payload. The result is a system that provides a vaccine and a permanent record at the same time. Different patches can create different dye patterns, to record the different vaccines as they are administered.

The MIT under-skin medical record is a laudable example of technology that is accessible in less developed and remote areas and could also deliver benefits for patients in first-world countries.