Tattooing might be more than just a fashion statement - it might be good for your health, says the new study.
German scientists have shown that tattooing is a more effective way of delivering DNA vaccines than intramuscular injection.
Using a coat protein from the human papillomavirus or HPV, the cause of cervical cancer, as a model DNA vaccine antigen, Martin Muller and his team at the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Center), Heidelberg, Germany, compared delivery by tattooing the skin of mice with standard intramuscular injection with, and without, the molecular adjuvants that are often given to boost immune response.
The researchers found that tattoo method gave a stronger humoral (antibody) response and cellular response than intramuscular injection, even when adjuvants were included in the latter.
Three doses of DNA vaccine given by tattooing produced at least 16 times higher antibody levels than three intramuscular injections with adjuvant. The adjuvants enhanced the effect of intramuscular injection, but not of tattooing.
Tattooing is an invasive procedure, which is done using a solid vibrating needle, causing a wound and sufficient inflammation to 'prime' the immune system. It also covers a bigger area of the skin than an injection, so the DNA vaccine can enter more cells.
These effects might account for the stronger immune response arising from introducing a DNA vaccine into the body by tattooing.
The researchers said that the tattooing approach might not be to everyone's taste, as it is likely to hurt, but they believe that it could have a role in, for instance, routine vaccination of cattle or in delivering therapeutic vaccines to humans.
"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 vaccinesm," Muller said.
The study is published in the online open access journal, Genetic Vaccines and Therapy.