MIT scientists have worked out how to encase potent vaccines in nanoparticle shells--creating nanovaccine delivery systems, a trick that could have serious implications in fighting difficult-to-kill viruses like HIV.
Vaccine design in modern therapy often centers on provoking the body's T-cells--key players in the immune system--to act to attack a virus or bacteria. Synthetic vaccines (artificially constructed at a molecular level, versus using a "disabled" live virus) are sometimes used when the target vaccine is dangerous or difficult to work with, such as HIV. In the case of HIV, the virus also works largely inside a victim cell--making it tricky to reach, and requiring the activation of very specific T-cells, killer ones.
The difficulty in traditional virus treatment is that synthetic vaccines don't necessarily cause strong T-cell reactions. Scientists have tried wrapping them in fatty liposomes so they look more like "real" viruses, thus provoking the body's immune system. This approach has its own flaws--the liposomes aren't stable, and don't remain long.
Enter MIT's researchers at the Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. By wrapping artificial vaccine molecules in spherical shells of liposomes, they've created a stable structure that lasts longer inside the body. But when it's absorbed into a cell, the liposomes break down quickly, baring the virus and causing the body to create the right kind of T-cells. The tech's been tested successfully in mice, and worked to convert large numbers of T-cells to act as vaccine initiators--as shown in the image, where red nanovaccine particles are surrounding green-stained immune cells.
Essentially the trick in this tech is to take some already clever anti-viral biology, disguise it in a sci-fi-sounding nanotech suit that helps it look like a virus, and deliver the vaccine right into the cells where it's needed. Ninja-nanotech-vaccines perhaps?
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