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On-Demand Vaccines Possible With Engineered Nanoparticles

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This image shows a collection of vaccinating nanoparticles, which at their largest are about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair. The inset graphic is a representation of how the engineered proteins decorate a nanoparticle’s surface.Image Credit: University of Washington

Vaccines combat diseases and protect populations from outbreaks, but the life-saving technology leaves room for improvement. Vaccines usually are made en masse in centralized locations far removed from where they will be used. They are expensive to ship and keep refrigerated and they tend to have short shelf lives. University of Washington engineers hope a new type of vaccine they have shown to work in mice will one day make it cheaper and easy to manufacture on-demand vaccines for humans. Immunizations could be administered within minutes where and when a disease is breaking out. “We’re really excited about this technology because it makes it possible to produce a vaccine on the spot. For instance, a field doctor could see the beginnings of an epidemic, make vaccine doses right away, and blanket vaccinate the entire population in the affected area to prevent the spread of an epidemic,” said François Baneyx, a UW professor of chemical engineering.  The UW team injected mice with nanoparticles synthesized using an engineered protein that both mimics the effect of an infection and binds to calcium phosphate, the inorganic compound found in teeth and bones. After eight months, mice that contracted the disease made threefold the number of protective “killer” T-cells – a sign of a long-lasting immune response – compared with mice that had received the protein but no calcium phosphate nanoparticles. The nanoparticles appear to work by ferrying the protein to the lymph nodes where they have a higher chance of meeting dendritic cells, a type of immune cell that is scarce in the skin and muscles, but plays a key role in activating strong immune responses.