Nanotechnology Strikes Again: Nanoparticles as Vaccines

By on January 15, 2014

In an effort to improve vaccinations, scientists from University of Washington (UW) propose to use nanoparticles as an effective way to combat diseases and epidemics. Trials with mice confirm that using nanoparticles as a delivery system gave mice much-needed immunity to disease, but trials with humans have not yet begun.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 to 500,000 people throughout the world fall prey to influenza, a viral infection that can easily become an epidemic. Technology affords the luxury of vaccinations, but the current model of vaccinations leaves a lot to be wanted; because vaccines can only be produced in centralized locations, it is difficult to transport them over long distances in a timely manner and to store them for long periods of time. So began Francois Baneyx (lead author), Weibin Zhou, Albanus Moguche, David Chiu, and Kaja Murali-Krishna on developing an alternative device of delivering immunity.

In a typical vaccine, proteins from pathogens and compounds known as adjuvants are injected into the body. The body’s immune system recognizes the injection as an invader and mounts its defenses against a certain disease. However, because there are times when vaccine formulations fail. Using nanoparticles makes it easier for doctors to produce vaccines on demand and to inoculate people before epidemics become out of hand. In UW’s study, they designed nanoparticles, which bind to calcium phosphate, a compound in bones. The nanoparticle-protein complex imitates an infection and theoretically acts as a raft, carrying the synthesized protein to lymph nodes. This strategic location makes it more likely for the vaccine to encounter dendritic cells, which help trigger an immune response.

During experimentation, there were two main groups of mice: one that researchers treated with the nanoparticle vaccine and another that researchers treated with only the protein. After an eight-month wait, the group of mice treated with the nanoparticle delivery system demonstrated a substantial increase in killer-T cells, an increase indicative of an acquired immunity and successful vaccination. The other group of mice demonstrated no such immune response when exposed to the disease.

Outside the lab, preparing such a vaccine would be a matter of mixing a dehydrated engineered protein, calcium, and phosphate particles with water. Baneyx surmises that this technique, should it be successful in humans, would be especially useful in developing countries and remote areas because these nanoparticles do not have to be kept cold, and they can rely on less expensive equipment to be produced. Perhaps in the future, vaccines could become one-time use patches or bandages, which are even cheaper to use and maintain than needles.



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About Rhiana Simon

Neuroscience student. Aspiring researcher, writer, and avid insect collector.
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