Vaccines are an invaluable tool for protecting ourselves from potentially deadly diseases, but actually using them can be difficult. As viruses and bacteria like to infect us through mucosal surfaces, applying vaccinations to those surfaces would improve their effectiveness, but the body will naturally remove the vaccines, before they take effect. Researchers at MIT though have developed a way to protect the vaccines long enough to provoke an immune response.
Vaccinations work by exposing the body to a weakened form of a disease, so the immune system can identify the pathogens and quickly target them, if exposed to them again. One way to administer a vaccine is with an aerosol spray to the lungs, which will help protect against respiratory viruses. The problem is the mucosal surfaces in the lungs may be cleared away before the immune system can react to the vaccine. The MIT researchers have developed a nanoparticle that protects the vaccine long enough for it to be taken to the T cells, which help create the memory of a virus or other malicious particle. The researchers have also tested this technique for delivering cancer vaccines, and have seen some early success.
When tested in mice, the researchers discovered that mucosal surfaces outside of the lungs were also activated, including those in the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts. If this also happens in humans, which is not clear, we could have a way to block systemic infections.