DARPA studying pollen grains as vaccine delivery system

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding the development of technology to package oral vaccines for delivery using pollen.

The exterior of pollen grains are shells made of a non-allergenic, naturally durable polymer. The interior of the shell can be emptied, which eliminates any allergy-producing material, and then filled with vaccine, according to

The shell's durability also gives it a substantial advantage over traditional oral tablets because it serves to protect the vaccine while it is in the body. Stomach acids, for example, often limit a medication's absorption. A pollen shell would protect the vaccine until it reaches the intestines.

"Because pollen shells are durable... they can potentially survive inside the body and safeguard a vaccine until it can be delivered," DARPA said. "All this means that along with the traditional image of pollen as airborne particles that cause headaches and sneezing, pollen could also eventually be known as an edible vaccine delivery vehicle."

DARPA granted the project's funding through the Young Faculty Awards program. Harvinder Gill, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech University was the recipient of the award. Gill is currently investigating pollen grains, micro-needles, gold nanoparticles and polymeric micro-nano particles for mucosal vaccination and cancer drug delivery.