COVID vaccines that must be stored at certain temperatures are of little use to people living in remote areas with limited resources. In an attempt to overcome this barrier nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego have pioneered potential vaccines, made using viruses from plants or bacteria, that are able to take heat.
“What’s exciting about our vaccine technology is that is thermally stable, so it could easily reach places where setting up ultra-low temperature freezers, or having trucks drive around with these freezers, is not going to be possible,” explains Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering and the director of the Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
In using plants or bacteria there are also far fewer restrictions when it comes to the production of such vaccines.
“Growing plants is relatively easy and involves infrastructure that’s not too sophisticated,” added Steinmetz. “And fermentation using bacteria is already an established process in the biopharmaceutical industry.”
In addition these raw materials are tough enough to be fabricated – using heat – into implants and microneedle patches.
“Imagine if vaccine patches could be sent to the mailboxes of our most vulnerable people, rather than having them leave their homes and risk exposure,” said Jon Pokorski, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, whose team developed the technology to make the implants and microneedle patches.
Pokorski added: “If clinics could offer a one-dose implant to those who would have a really hard time making it out for their second shot, that would offer protection for more of the population and we could have a better chance at stemming transmission.”
The ‘plug and play’ technology also holds promise for dealing with the next virus.
“Even if this technology does not make an impact for COVID-19, it can be quickly adapted for the next threat, the next virus X,” said Steinmetz.
Next the researchers have to test the efficacy of the vaccines in protecting against COVID-19, and its variants – in the laboratory, ahead of possible clinical trials.
The research was published today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.