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Scientists manage to extend the shelf life of vaccines
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Scientists manage to extend the shelf life of vaccines.
Nearly half of all vaccines produced are wasted. This is because shipping them to different parts of the world involves many logistical challenges.
Another major factor is that most vaccines require strict temperature control from the production line to injection into the human arm.
Keeping the temperature constant along the cold (supply) chain is also a challenge at best.
Furthermore, in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions, for example, limited transport infrastructure and unreliable electricity services compound the enormous challenge of delivering a viable vaccine.
To address this challenge, researchers at ETH Zurich’s Laboratory of Macromolecular Engineering and Organic Chemistry, in collaboration with entrepreneurs at Nanoly Biosciences in Colorado, have developed a safe, versatile platform to improve the thermostability of vaccines.
What are their goals? Significantly improve the distribution of viable vaccines and reduce the economic costs of the cold chain.
Like a protein ‘Tupperware’ fresh airtight box
Bruno Marco Dufort, PhD researcher in Professor Marc Tibbit’s Macromolecular Engineering Laboratory, explained: “Think of it as an egg , which at room temperature or in the fridge retains its sticky protein structure, but Once it encounters boiling water or a frying pan, its structure changes permanently.” The same goes for the proteins in the vaccine — they clump together once exposed to certain temperatures. Cooling them again did not reverse their denaturation.
So instead of changing nature, Marco-Dufort and a team of scientists developed a new type of hydrogel, the details of which were just published August 5 in the journal Science Advances.
The gel is based on a biocompatible synthetic polymer known as “PEG” or polyethylene glycol. It acts as a protective “stealth device” to protect very large – but invisible – complex molecules such as proteins in vaccines, antibodies or gene therapy.
This packaging acts a bit like a molecular tupperware, encapsulating proteins and separating them.
It enables the protein to withstand a higher range of temperature fluctuations. Unlike the traditional cold chain range of +2 to +8 °C (35 to 45 °F), the package allows for a range of 25 to 65 °C (75 to 150 °F).
Most importantly, the encapsulated cargo can be released simply by adding sugar liquid. This allows the vaccine to be conveniently recycled on demand when it is in use.
Applications in Cancer Research
This new biomedical hydrogel technology could provide higher vaccine survival rates.
The real game-changer, however, is the potential economic effect it could have on reducing the costs and health risks associated with the cold chain.
“The overall market for cold chain services (from manufacturing to distribution) was $17.2 billion in 2020 and is forecast to rise,” the researchers report. “If vaccines arrive through a compromised cold chain, rising costs are a real threat to public health and the general public.” Trust poses potentially dire consequences.
Most vaccines are sensitive to both heat and cold.
This presents a huge hurdle for the global immunization movement, as the cost of vaccine distribution and administration often exceeds the cost of production,” explained Marco-Dufort.
While more investment is required to support the cold chain, encapsulation technology offers a cost-saving solution that can be used to produce more vaccines, saving more lives.
However, there is still a long way to go in terms of further research, safety studies and clinical trials before hydrogels can be used for vaccine distribution.
Their more immediate use is for transporting heat-sensitive enzymes used in cancer research, for example, or protein molecules for research in laboratory settings.
A step towards solving global problems
While new biotechnologies and cost savings are a step in the right direction, enormous logistical, political and socioeconomic challenges remain in addressing global issues surrounding equitable vaccine distribution and vaccine indecision.
Marco Duffer’s motives are fearless. His childhood experiences living in the Democratic Republic of Congo made him acutely aware of the need for vaccines for infectious diseases, not just for COVID-19, but also for polio, meningitis and Ebola.
He knows better than most the enormous challenges facing people living in sub-Saharan Africa, where infectious diseases are still widespread.
The work of Marc Tibbit, Bruno Marco Dufort and the team represents substantial progress in the development of vaccine excipients.
Their progress also offers a glimmer of hope for positive social impact. Even small relief in economic factors related to the distribution of vaccines, medicines and biomedical research will have a bigger impact in the future.
Scientists manage to extend the shelf life of vaccines
(source:internet, reference only)