The Future of Medicine: Improved Malaria Vaccine

flu_vaccineOf the many advances made by medical science in the past century, vaccinations are arguably the greatest. With the ability to inoculate people against infection, diseases like yellow fever, measles, rubella, mumps, typhoid, tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, and even the common flu have become controllable – if not eliminated. Nevertheless, medical researchers agree that there are still some things that can be improved upon when it comes to vaccinations.

Beyond the controversies surrounding a supposed link between vaccinations and autism, there is the simple fact that the current method of inoculating people is rather invasive. Basically, it requires people to sit through the rather uncomfortable process of being stuck with a needle, oftentimes in an uncomfortable place (like the shoulder). Luckily, many researchers are working on a way to immunize people using gentler methods.

malaria_vaccineAt the University College Cork in Ireland, for example, scientists have just finished pre-clinical testing on an experimental malaria vaccine that is delivered through the skin. To deliver the vaccine into the body, the researchers used a skin patch with arrays of tiny silicon microneedles that painlessly create temporary pores. These pores provide an entry point for the vaccine to flow into the skin, as the patch dissolves and releases the drug.

To make the vaccine, the team used a live adenovirus similar to the virus that causes the common cold, but which they engineered to be safer and produce the same protein as the parasite that causes malaria. Adenoviruses are one of the most powerful vaccine platforms scientists have tested, and the one they used produced strong immunity responses to the malaria antigen with lower doses of the vaccine.

TB_microneedlesThe research showed that the administration of the vaccine with the microneedle patch solves a shortcoming related to this type of vaccine, which is inducing immunity to the viral vector – that is, to the vaccine itself. By overcoming this obstacle, the logistics and costs of vaccination could be simpler and cheaper as it would not require boosters to be made with different strains. Besides, with no needles or pain involved, there’s bigger potential to reach more people requiring inoculation.

This is similar to the array used by researchers at King’s College in London, who are also developing a patch for possible HIV vaccine delivery. Researchers at University of Washington used a similar method last year to deliver the tuberculosis vaccine. The method is an improvement on this type of vaccine delivery since it is painless and non-invasive. It’s use is also being researched in relation to other infections, including Ebola and HIV.

The details of the research appeared in the journal Nature. Lead researcher, Dr. Anne Moore, is set to negotiate with Silicon Valley investors and technology companies to commercialize the vaccine.

Sources: gizmag.com, (2), ucc.ie, nature.com

New Vaccine Could Wipe Out The Flu

For some time now, researchers and scientists have been trying to develop a way to immunize people against the common flu. Traditional vaccines are available, but for most people, the need to get a shot once a year seems like a bit of a bother. For others, potential side effects are reason enough not to get one, especially when getting one doesn’t guarantee they’ll stay healthy. However, that all may be coming to an end, thanks to research being conducted at the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute in Riems Island, Germany.

The key, apparently, is to use an RNA-based vaccine. Traditional vaccines work by teaching our immune systems to recognize a pair of key proteins, known as HA and NA, found on viruses. But those proteins constantly change due to mutation, and at a rate that requires that new vaccines be produced every year. However, the proposed new kind of vaccine would work by targeting the underlying RNA-driven processes that create the NA and HA proteins, regardless of their precise form.

According to an interview conduct by New Scientist with Lothar Stitz, “the mRNA that controls the production of HA and NA in a flu virus can be mass-produced in a few weeks. An injection of mRNA is picked up by immune cells, which translate it into protein… These proteins are then recognized by the body as foreign, generating an immune response. The immune system will then recognize the proteins if it encounters the virus subsequently, allowing it to fight off that strain of flu.”

What’s more, this new type of vaccine could be produced in the form of a powder, which would eliminate the need for refrigeration. And an RNA vaccine is more appealing to researchers than proposed DNA vaccines because there’s no chance of them getting spliced into the human genome and disrupting normal genetic behavior. In addition, the German research team has also discovered a protein known as protamine, which protects the RNA vaccines from being ripped apart in the bloodstream.

Naturally, there is plenty of testing to be done, and human trials to be conducted to make sure the entire sequence works within the human immune system, sans harmful side effects. But the early results are encouraging and researchers are optimistic. Between this news and the possibility of an HIV vaccine, we could be looking at the end of infectious diseases sometime in the not-too-distant future. But I wouldn’t say that definitively though, since don’t I want to jinx it 😉

Now if only we could find a cure for the common cold…

Source: IO9.com