A new way to deliver vaccines being developed in Buffalo

New vaccine vehicles that contain genetically-engineered DNA to combat HIV, cancer and the flu are being developed at the University at Buffalo.

The technology is described as a biomedical advancement that could help unleash the potential of DNA vaccines, which have yet to make a significant impact in the treatment of major illnesses after nearly 20 years of research.

"The technology that we're developing could help take immunization to the next level," said Blaine A. Pfeifer, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University at Buffalo and lead author in a recent published article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "By improving the delivery of DNA vaccines, we can potentially harness the human immune system in new ways to fight everything from the flu and herpes to HIV and cancer."

Pfeifer and his colleagues collaborated with Anders Hakansson, Ph.D., formerly of the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, to publish the study findings.

Conventional vaccines used nowadays are generally made up of an agent that contains weakened or dead forms of the disease-causing microbe. The agent then prompts the immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroys it, and will do so again in the future. Some of these vaccines have a short shelf life, and no vaccines exist for cancer and other diseases that take many lives each year. DNA vaccines could potentially fix these problems.
To create DNA vaccines, researchers isolate copies of the microbe's genes (usually one or two) responsible for the disease and the DNA is injected into the body and directs the production and presentation of antigens which provoke a response capable of eliminating the disease.

"The hybrid provided a synergistic boost in delivery effectiveness due to its dual nature," said Charles H. Jones, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UB and the study's first author. "We also determined that it's relatively inexpensive to create and flexible in terms of use. The results thus far are very encouraging."

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