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DNA vaccine

 

Zika Virus

Caption: Zika virus (red), isolated from a microcephaly case in Brazil. The virus is associated with cellular membranes in the center.
Credit: NIAID

Last February, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency over concerns about very serious birth defects in Brazil and their possible link to Zika virus. But even before then, concerns about the unprecedented spread of Zika virus in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America had prompted NIH-funded scientists to step up their efforts to combat this emerging infectious disease threat. Over the last year, research aimed at understanding the mosquito-borne virus has progressed rapidly, and we now appear to be getting closer to a Zika vaccine.

In a recent study in the journal Nature, researchers found that a single dose of either of two experimental vaccines completely protected mice against a major viral strain responsible for the Zika outbreak in Brazil [1]. Caution is certainly warranted when extrapolating these (or any other) findings from mice to people. But, taking into account the fact that researchers have already developed safe and effective human vaccines for several related viruses, the new work represents a very encouraging milestone on the road toward a much-needed Zika vaccine for humans.

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An enlarged photo of the patch held by tweezers above a second photo of a magnified view of the needles.

A vaccine patch and a view of the “needles” using scanning electron microscopy.
Credit: Peter DeMuth/Wellcome Trust

This might be a new way to get a shot. Funded in part by the NIH, this vaccine patch [1] is coated in a thin film that literally melts into the skin when the patch is applied. The film contains DNA, rather than protein, which is absorbed by the skin cells and triggers an immune reaction. It seems to be effective in animal models. DNA vaccines are attractive because they may not require refrigeration like typical protein vaccines and can be stably stored for weeks. And, though this patch looks spiky, the length of the needles can be adjusted so that they don’t reach the skin layers that contain nerves. Thus: no ouch.

[1] Polymer multilayer tattooing for enhanced DNA vaccination. Demuth PC, Min Y, Huang B, Kramer JA, Miller AD, Barouch DH, Hammond PT, Irvine DJ. Nat Mater. 2013 Jan 27.

 NIH support: the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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