Carrying a scar from your BCG vaccination? Now there's a patch to shrink it

Patients can use the patch at home, unlike the injection which requires visiting a clinic.
Patients can use the patch at home, unlike the injection which requires visiting a clinic.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - There is good news for those carrying scars from vaccinations like BCG for tuberculosis. Researchers from the National Skin Centre (NSC) have developed a near-painless, micro-needle patch to shrink these blemishes, which are called keloid scars.

The patch will offer patients an alternative to a monthly injection into the scar, which is currently the most effective form of treatment but is often painful.

Made of micro-needles containing a steroid called triamcinolone - also used in the conventional injection - the patch was revealed by Dr Tey Hong Liang, who heads NSC's research department, at a media briefing on Friday (Oct 6).

Keloids are raised overgrowths of scar tissue and result from the skin healing after an injury, including surgery, acne and blisters.

The BCG vaccination has been given to all newborns since 1957 as part of the national TB Control Programme, but the second vaccination given to 12- or 16- year-olds was stopped in 2001 by the Ministry of Health as studies worldwide did not show that repeated BCG vaccinations are effective against TB.

People with darker skin form keloids more easily than those with lighter skin, and some of the scars can be painful and itchy.

The patch offers patients the convenience of using it at home instead of visiting the clinic for an injection, said Dr Tey, who is also a senior consultant at the NSC.

They can also use it for keloids on the face, unlike injections which risk causing blindness.

Patients have to apply the patch to the scar every day, for two to three minutes, and the frequency can be reduced as the scar flattens, he added.

A pack of 30 patches available in two sizes will cost between $40 to $50 - similar to the monthly injection - and will be available on a prescription basis at the NSC from the end of the year.

While treatment for keloids, including surgery and using silicone gel sheets, flattens the scar and also eases the pain and itch, it does not remove the scars completely, said Dr Tey.

In fact, half of the patients receiving injections still experience a recurrence of their keloids, he added.

Patients receiving the monthly injection usually need to take it for about two to five years. Dr Tey said that more research will need to be conducted to determine for how long the patch needs to be applied.

A study on the patch involving 27 NSC patients, who had previously received the conventional injection, was conducted by researchers from 2016 to 2017.

It found that the size of their scars went down by 13 per cent after four weeks of using the patch, and there were no incidents of infection or contact dermatitis.

All patients also felt that the patch was not painful.

The NSC manages more than 5,000 keloid cases a year.

Patient Alex Tong, 43, who has been getting injections for a keloid scar on his chest since 2010, said he would consider trying the patch.

"This is mainly because I would not need to visit the Skin Centre often since I can do it at home, so it's more convenient," said the remisier, whose scar grows bigger and more itchy whenever he stops treatment for six months.