Extending the shelf life of vaccines

Formulation of gels containing anti-inflammatory agents. Credit: ETH Zurich / Jonathan Zawada

About half of the vaccines are wasted. This happened because of the obstacles involved in transporting them to different regions of the world. Most vaccines require strict temperature regulations from the manufacturing line to the injection into the human hand. Maintaining the temperature with the cold chain (communication) is a big challenge in the best of conditions. In sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions, for example, poor infrastructure and unreliable electricity supply are major challenges to vaccine delivery.

Facing the challenge, scientists from ETH Zurich’s Macromolecular Engineering and Organic Chemistry Labs and entrepreneurs from Colorado’s Nanoly Bioscience have worked together to develop a safe platform suitable for thermal development of vaccines. Their purpose? To improve the distribution of vaccines that can be used and reduce the economic costs of the cold chain.

Like Tupperware for proteins

“Think of it like an egg,” says Bruno Marco-Dufort, a graduate researcher in Professor Mark Tibbitt’s Macromolecular Engineering Lab. “You the temperature of the room Even in the refrigerator, an egg maintains a nutritional structure similar to moisture, but once it hits boiling water or a frying pan, its structure changes forever.” The same goes for the proteins in it prevention— once they meet certain temperatures they come together. Putting them down again won’t change their mind – you can’t “cook” an egg.

So instead of changing mother natureMarco-Dufort and a team of researchers created a new type of hydrogel, the details of which are published in the journal. Advances in Science. The gel is based on a natural, synthetic polymer known as PEG that acts as a protective barrier for very large—yet invisible to the naked eye—complex molecules such as proteins and found in vaccines, antibiotics, or genetic medicine. The package acts like the Tupperware of the cells, keeping the proteins that separate them. It allows proteins to withstand a large range of temperature changes. Instead of the traditional +2 to +8 degrees Celsius (35 to 45 Fahrenheit) cold chain range, encapsulation allows a range of 25 to 65 degrees Celsius (75 to 150 Fahrenheit). Most importantly, the coated material is removed by adding a sugar solution, allowing the needle to be easily retrieved on demand at the point of use.

Use in cancer research

In addition to the higher number of potential vaccines, the real game changer of this new biomedical hydrogel technology is the potential economic impact it can have on reducing the costs and health risks associated with the cold chain. “In 2020, the entire cold chain services market (from manufacturing to distribution) was $17.2 billion and is projected to rise,” the researchers reported. Rising costs have negative consequences for public health and public trust if vaccines come through the cold chain.

“Most vaccines treat heat and cold. This creates a big barrier to the global vaccination campaign, because of the distribution of vaccines and administrative costs often exceed the cost of production,” said Marco-Dufort. While more investment will be needed to improve the cold chain, encapsulation offers a cost-saving solution that can be applied to the production of more vaccines so , saving lives.

However, there is still a long way to go in terms of further research, safety studies, and clinical trials before hydrogels can be implemented for vaccine distribution. Another immediate use is to transport the hot enzymes used in it cancer researchfor example, or proteins for analysis in lab settings.

One step to solve a global problem

While new biotechnologies and cost savings It’s a step in the right direction, there are still big strategic, political, and social issues.economic challenges to solve the global problems of equitable distribution of vaccines and vaccine delays. The Marco-Dufort court does not cut. His childhood experience living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo deepened his understanding of the need for vaccines against diseases, not only for COVID-19, but also for Polio, Meningitis, and Ebola. He, more than anyone else, is aware of the great challenges that people living in sub-Saharan Africa face in terms of getting vaccines where diseases are still widespread.

Mark Tibbitt, Bruno Marco-Dufort, and team’s work represents a major advance in the development of immunotherapy. Their work also offers great hope for a positive impact on society. Even the simplest of economic factors related to the distribution of vaccines, drugs, and biomedical research can have a big impact down the road.

High temperature, remote islands pose a challenge for the Asian jab distributor

Additional information:
Bruno Marco-Dufort et al, Thermal stabilization of different biomaterials using reversible hydrogels, Advances in Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo0502.

hint: Extending the shelf life of vaccines (2022, August 5) Retrieved August 5, 2022 from

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