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Using nanocapsules to deliver vaccines to lungs

Posted September 26, 2013
Many viruses and bacteria infect humans through mucosal surfaces, such as those in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive tract. To help fight these pathogens, scientists are working on vaccines that can establish a front line of defense at mucosal surfaces.
Using nanoparticles to deliver vaccines to lungs
The immune response generated by delivering lipid nanocapsules loaded with anti-cancer antigens (left) is compared to the same response generated by traditional soluble vaccines (right). Blue stain marks nuclei of cells in the tissue. Lung tissue sections immunized with the lipid nanocapsule vaccine show sustained retention of nanocapsule-loaded antigens (red) in the tissue near antigen-presenting cells (green). This retention is not discernible in the lung tissue immunized with the soluble vaccine. Scale bars 50 µm. Credit: Adrienne V. Li, James J. Moon, Darrell J. Irvine

Vaccines can be delivered to the lungs via an aerosol spray, but the lungs often clear away the vaccine before it can provoke an immune response. To overcome that, MIT engineers have developed a new type of nanoparticle that protects the vaccine long enough to generate a strong immune response—not only in the lungs, but also in mucosal surfaces far from the vaccination site, such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts.

Such vaccines could help protect against influenza and other respiratory viruses, or prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, herpes simplex virus and human papilloma virus, says Darrell Irvine, an MIT professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering and the leader of the research team. He is also exploring use of the particles to deliver cancer vaccines.

“This is a good example of a project where the same technology can be applied in cancer and in infectious disease. It’s a platform technology to deliver a vaccine of interest,” says Irvine, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard University.


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