SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2016

Study: Injectable vaccines soon may fight cancer, deadly pathogens

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently discovered that a nonsurgical injection of biomaterial can potentially prevent and fight cancer and deadly infections such as HIV and Ebola.

In the research, published recently in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists discuss how the biomaterial spontaneously assembles in vivo into a three-dimensional structure that can fight cancer and other infectious diseases.

"We can create 3-D structures using minimally-invasive delivery to enrich and activate a host's immune cells to target and attack harmful cells in vivo," David Mooney -- the study's senior author, a  Wyss Institute Core Faculty member and the Robert P. Pinkas Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS -- said.

Small, rod-like structures made from silica (mesoporous silica rods) can be loaded with biological and chemical drug material, then delivered subcutaneously. The rods then form a 3-D scaffold at the vaccination site, large enough to fill up with dendritic cells that trigger an immune response when a harmful presence, such as cancer cells or HIV, is detected.

"Nano-size mesoporous silica particles have already been established as useful for manipulating individual cells from the inside, but this is the first time that larger particles, in the micron size range, are used to create a 3-D in vivo scaffold that can recruit and attract tens of millions of immune cells," co-lead author Jaeyun Kim, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Sungkyunkwan University and a former Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, said.

To date, the researchers have only tested the 3-D vaccine in mice, but the results have been positive. The vaccines are easy to manufacture and could be widely available to target an emerging outbreak.

"Injectable immunotherapies that use programmable biomaterials as a powerful vehicle to deliver targeted treatment and preventive care could help fight a whole range of deadly infections, including common worldwide killers like HIV and Ebola, as well as cancer," Wyss Institute Founding Director Dr. Donald Ingber, a Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, and professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS, said. "These injectable 3-D vaccines offer a minimally invasive and scalable way to deliver therapies that work by mimicking the body's own powerful immune response in diseases that have previously been able to skirt immune detection."

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