Thursday, October 25, 2012

Using microbes instead of needles for vaccines

Most vaccines are administered by means of an injection, but this method is far from perfect. It requires the use of, mostly disposable, needles, which is a both an environmental and a financial burden. Additionally, needles are generally disliked because of the associated pain, although modern needles hardly cause any. A lot of research is devoted to finding alternatives for needles, as recently demonstrated by the development of laser injections. Now, a group of scientists has developed another alternative, by making use of a special feature of bacteria.

The alternative for needle vaccination, developed by the University of London, is based on a specific microbial phenomenon known as spore formation. Some bacteria have acquired this ability, and it lets them revert to a basic state in which almost all metabolism is shut down, and the bacteria remains in a sort of dormant state. Apparently, this particular spore state is an excellent tool for vaccine delivery.

Scientists used the bacterial strain Bacillus subtilis in order to create their novel alternative for needles. The spores of this particular bacterium were found to be excellent carriers for molecules that induce the required immune response for protection against diseases. These so-called antigens are stored within the spore, and can consequently be delivered to people by means of a nasal spray or a pill. Apparently, this is enough to induce the required exposure that the immune system requires in order to start recognizing the microbes that we want to be protected against.

Should the researchers be able to make their technique safe and cost-effective, then this could be a good alternative for vaccines that are still administered by needles. Currently, the spore technique is being developed for protection against a number of diseases, including tuberculosis, infections with a bacterial strain known as C. difficile, but also against the flu, which currently requires a yearly injection to protect against new strains.
A cluster of B. subtilis spores.

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