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Synthetic Vaccine May Fight Malaria, HIV

Nanoparticles (in red) surround immune cells (in green) in the skin of a mouse.
Nanoparticles (in red) surround immune cells (in green) in the skin of a mouse. (Image credit: Peter DeMuth and James Moon )

Synthetic vaccines often manage to avoid some of the safety concerns associated with infecting the body with a live virus — but the trade-off is that they’re often unsuccessful. One common method entails packing vaccines into spherical shells, but those often release their contents too early after injection or fail to activate the appropriate immune reactions.

To overcome these hurdles, Darrell Irvine, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), developed a way to trap a large amount of vaccine agents into stable capsules surrounded by special nanoparticles. Contact with chemicals inside human cells triggers the vesicles to unload their cargo, which slowly leaks out over the course of a month.

“We can use these to deliver any synthetic vaccine very effectively to immune cells,” said James Moon, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT and first author of the paper published online Feb. 20 in the journal Nature Materials.

The research team demonstrated that their strategy sparks more powerful immune responses in mice than do other types of lipid spheres, achieving results comparable to the delivery of live viruses. Antibodies — and other immune cells — absorbed and recognized proteins from the capsules more efficiently, producing long-lasting activation of immune boosters.

“All the models we tested are showing very strong, positive signs that these are working very well,” Moon told InnovationNewsDaily.

Next, the researchers will test whether the technique can combat malaria and HIV, both of which currently lack effective vaccines. Because the major components of the drug carrier are already FDA approved and there have been no adverse side effects reported, they are optimistic about future clinical trials in humans.

“The vaccine platform can potentially be applied to all different kinds of infectious diseases,” Moon said.

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.