The Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT recently developed a new way to deliver vaccines for polio, influenza and measles directly to lymph nodes, which produces a stronger immune response.
"The lymph nodes are where all the action happens in a primary immune response," Biological Engineering Professor Darrell Irvine said. "T cells and B cells reside there, and that's where you need to get the vaccine to get an immune response. The more material you can get there, the better."
Irvine said the new method of delivery might be useful in HIV vaccines and for treating tumors.
During the study, researchers used sentinel lymph node mapping, used by surgeons to send imaging dyes - which attach to albumin in the bloodstream - to the lymph nodes, to create their new process.
"We realized that might be an approach that you could try to copy in a vaccine - design a vaccine molecule that binds to albumin and hitchhikes to the lymph node," Irvine said.
The team created vaccines for HIV, melanoma and cervical cancer to test in mice. The tests showed each vaccine prompted an immune response five to 10 times stronger than in previous methods.
"We knew we were on the right track because we saw you could get immune responses that were just tremendous," Irvine said. "When you look in the blood, one in three T cells in the blood was a vaccine-specific T cell, which is something you usually only see with vaccines delivered by viruses."
The study's results were published on Feb. 16 in Nature.