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MIT’s Customizable RNA Vaccine Allows For Rapid Deployment to Ebola-Stricken Areas

Jul 05, 2016 02:42 AM EDT
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MIT engineers have designed a programmable RNA vaccine that could be delivered to Ebola-affected countries fast.
(Photo : Jaytaix/Pixabay)

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new type of customizable vaccine that could work against Ebola and other disease outbreaks, and could be deployed faster than traditional vaccines.

The vaccine can be manufactured in one week, which allows for rapid deployment to areas affected by disease outbreaks. So far, researchers have been able to test the vaccine on mice and results have shown its effectivity against Ebola, H1N1 influenza and Toxoplasma gondii, which is a relative of the parasite that causes malaria.

"This nanoformulation approach allows us to make vaccines against new diseases in only seven days, allowing the potential to deal with sudden outbreaks or make rapid modifications and improvements," Daniel Anderson, senior author of the study as well as associate professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, said in a news release.

According to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the vaccine consists of strands of genetic material known as messenger RNA, which can be designed to code for any viral, bacterial or parasitic protein. These molecules are then packaged into a molecule that carries the RNA into the cells, where it will be translated into proteins that trigger the host's immune response.

Apart from infectious diseases, the researchers are also working on adapting this approach to create cancer vaccines that would teach the immune system to recognize and destroy tumors.

Customizable Vaccine

Traditional vaccines consist of an inactivated form of a virus or other pathogen that could take a long time to manufacture and may be too risky for some diseases. But the customizable RNA vaccines work to induce the cells of the host to produce many copies of the protein they encode, and this triggers a stronger immune reaction.

Through customization of the RNA sequences, the researchers could design vaccines that produce any kind of protein they want.

Moreover, tests on laboratory mice showed animals that received a single dose of one of the vaccines showed no symptoms even after being exposed to the real virus, such as Ebola, H1N1 influenza or Toxoplasma gondii.

"No matter what antigen we picked, we were able to drive the full antibody and T cell responses," Omar Khan, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The researchers also said that the RNA vaccines could be safer than DNA vaccines because RNA cannot be integrated into the host genome, which may cause mutations.

Medical experts applauded this discovery and called it "revolutionary" because of its capability to reduce the amount of time needed to respond to disease outbreaks.

"Typically a vaccine becomes available long after the outbreak is over," Jasdave Chahal, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

"We think we can become interventional over the course of a real outbreak."

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