Researchers use gold particles in novel vaccination method

Vanderbilt University researchers developed a novel vaccination method using tiny gold particles to mimic a virus and carry proteins to the body's specialized immune cells, according to a study published on Wednesday in Nanotechnology.

The researchers tested the technique against the respiratory syncytial virus. RSV, which causes an estimated 65 million infections per year, is coated with a protein called the F protein. Scientists previously experienced difficulty preparing the immune system for the F protein with a vaccine.

The Vanderbilt team created small gold nanorods the size of an RSV virus that were coated with the RSV F proteins. The team then added the nanorods to a sample of immune cells known as dendritic cells. The researchers found the protein-coated nanorods were able to stimulate an immune response without causing a toxic reaction in the human cells.

"A vaccine for RSV, which is the major cause of viral pneumonia in children, is sorely needed," James Crowe, the lead author of the study, said. "This study shows that we have developed methods for putting RSV F protein into exceptionally small particles and presenting it to immune cells in a format that physically mimics the virus. Furthermore, the particles themselves are not infectious."

Crowe said the gold nanorods are extremely versatile and could be used for virtually any virus and for larger microbes like fungi and bacteria.

"This platform could be used to develop experimental vaccines for virtually any virus, and in fact other larger microbes such as bacteria and fungi," Crowe said. "The studies we performed showed that the candidate vaccines stimulated human immune cells when they were interacted in the lab. The next steps to testing would be to test whether or not the vaccines work in vivo."

RSV is the leading viral cause of lower respiratory tract infections and results in several hundred thousand deaths per year.