CSIRO research that could revolutionize vaccine delivery

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“And then the beauty of that is that when you have to use the vaccine, just by preparing the doses of vaccine in the normal way, the scaffold dissolves on its own.”

The need to store vaccines in some form of refrigeration between the manufacturing facility and the arms of patients is known as the “cold chain”.

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Like any chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link – if at some point the vials are not stored below -2C, the vaccine risks being compromised.

One of the main concerns with mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 when they were first deployed was the belief that they would have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures – as low as -70°C in certain cases.

It was feared that this requirement would seriously hamper efforts to get vaccines to remote parts of Australia, let alone parts of the developing world where the cold chain is not nearly as strong.

Fortunately, mRNA vaccines turned out to be more durable than first thought and could be distributed in medical refrigerators. This meant that the logistics of rapidly deploying vaccines were less complicated, even if they still had to be stored at -20°C for the long term.

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Several research projects around the world in recent years have attempted to find a way to isolate vaccine molecules so that they can be stored at room temperature.

One way to do this is to freeze-dry the vaccine, making it a powder that can be reconstituted at the other end of the supply chain when it’s ready to use.

This method was used for a smallpox vaccine decades ago and has been suggested as a storage method for a potential malaria vaccine developed by Griffith University.

Another method involves enclosing vaccine molecules in a silica cage, as demonstrated by researchers in 2020, in a technique similar but not identical to the CSIRO method.

Another route still being explored is to add a material to a vaccine that could insulate it from heat without encapsulating the particles – researchers tried in 2016 to add gold nanoparticles with some success.

All of these methods are relatively difficult to administer on a large scale and are prohibitively expensive in many cases. This is why the CSIRO method is considered such a promising avenue of research because it is both easy and inexpensive to implement.

“No one has been able to show before that you can encapsulate live virus vaccines like we did here, so this is a big step forward,” said the CSIRO immunologist and co-author of Daniel Layton research.

“It’s easy to take the cold chain for granted in a developed country like Australia, but in developing countries it’s not as easy to get vaccines to where they’re needed. This would mean that we could potentially transport these vaccines at room temperature to where they are needed most. »

Current tests indicate that with the CSIRO method, a vaccine can be kept viable on the shelf at temperatures up to 37°C for 12 weeks.

CSIRO researchers used a vaccine against Newcastle disease, a virus that affects chickens around the world, as proof of concept for their preservation method.

They’ve spent about eight years to get to this point, and expect to take up to 10 years to get to the point where they have a viable method that can be used for human vaccines.

They will first move to preclinical testing of the current method for a human vaccine that also uses live virus, while simultaneously working on adapting the method for use in mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines. -19.

“Even if we could only help with this disease, Newcastle disease is actually a major problem in developing countries themselves, so that would be a great achievement,” said Dr Layton.

“But if we could expand it to include many more vaccines, it could have a massive impact on vaccine delivery around the world.”

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