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‘Cupping’ method may promote a COVID vaccine immune response 100 times stronger than injection alone, Rutgers researchers find

Old and new science collide in a recently published Rutgers study that found an ancient therapeutic technique could maximize the benefits of COVID vaccines.

In findings published in the Science Advances journal, researchers found that using the technique of “cupping” can maximize doses of the COVID vaccine and generate a robust immune response 100 times stronger than the injected vaccine alone.

You may not know what cupping is, but you’ve likely already seen the aftereffects of it. If you watched the Olympics this summer, you may have seen dark red circles on the bodies of athletes, often swimmers. They’re the result of placing heated cups on the skin to create negative pressure and circulate blood to areas to promote healing. The method is ancient, dating back to Middle Eastern, Greek and Asian societies before the common era.

But in addition to its use in athletics and therapeutics, scientists have also been testing its applicability in medicinal and vaccine applications over the last two decades. Now, Rutgers researchers have found cupping can amplify the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines used for COVID. 

Science Advances

These types of medicines “direct the production of encoded proteins to prompt an immune response in the case of a vaccine,” but if injected directly into a person, DNA and RNA molecules do not automatically or necessarily enter cells, and rapidly degrade.

But, if cupping is applied to injection sites, as it was to rats in the study, layers of skin strain and relax, triggering cells to take in the DNA molecules.

Study author Hao Lin, a professor at Rutgers’ Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, says it’s painless and has no known side effects.

“This method enables an easy-to-use, cost-effective and highly-scalable platform for both laboratory and clinical applications for nucleic-acid-based therapeutics and vaccines,” says Lin.

The benefits of the study’s findings extend further, Lin says, including, “device cost-effectiveness and manufacturing scalability and minimal requirements for user training. Because of the inherent advantages of DNA, not least of which is avoiding cold-chain requirements of other vaccines, this technology facilitates vaccination programs into remote regions of the world where resources are limited.”

The technique also has viability outside of COVID; the research indicates it has viability for other vaccines and medications, as well.

The study was led by Rutgers’ School of Engineering and GeneOne Life Science, co-sponsored by a Rutgers grant.