Acclaim for vaccination delivery breakthrough

Developing a faster, cheaper way to produce vaccines has seen an AgResearch team recognised by a prestigious US scientific publication.

AgResearch Scientist Natalie Parlane, along with co-authors Dr Neil Wedlock and Dr Bryce Buddle, and Massey’s Professor Bernd Rehm had their paper ‘Bacterial polyester inclusions engineered to display vaccine candidate antigens for use as a novel class of safe and efficient vaccine delivery agents’ featured in the American Society for Microbiology’s News Highlights – one of just a handful of papers selected from the Society’s stable of journals.

The research is a collaborative project between the AgResearch team at the Hopkirk Research Institute and Professor Rehm’s group at the Institute of Molecular BioSciences at Massey University.

Professor Rehm’s group firstly developed a technique of getting bacteria to produce tiny polyester beads. These kinds of bioengineered microstructures are increasingly being used in medical sciences, with polyester known to be non-toxic and biodegradable in biomedical applications. These granules can also be engineered to include other things, in this case, a vaccine antigen. The bacterium itself is destroyed, leaving polyester particles that offer a safe and effective means of delivering the vaccine antigen. An advantage is that when antigens are delivered on a nanoparticle like this, they stimulate the immune response more than when delivered alone.

Natalie then applied this system to deliver a TB vaccine in animal studies. The most exciting thing about this system is its versatility, however, because the particles could be engineered to produce antigens for any type of disease that needs a vaccine. Another exciting area of development could be a ‘multivalent’ vaccine, where two or more disease antigens are included in the granule.

The beauty of this discovery is the speed and cost of production. In the past, disease antigens were created by firstly producing bacteria or yeast to make large quantities of a single viral or bacterial protein, at huge expense and fraught with difficulty. This novel method, where the bacteria produces the polyester particles with the antigens all together in a simple, quick, one-step process is a world first, and a breakthrough for producing low unit-cost vaccinations.

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