MIT engineers have developed a new type of easily customizable vaccine that can be manufactured in one week, allowing it to be rapidly deployed in response to disease outbreaks.
So far, they have designed vaccines against,
...which were 100 percent effective in
tests in mice.
These molecules are then packaged into a
molecule that delivers the RNA into cells, where it is translated
into proteins that provoke an immune response from the host.
Daniel Anderson is the senior author of a paper (Dendrimer-RNA Nanoparticles Generate Protective Immunity Against Lethal Ebola, H1N1 influenza, and Toxoplasma gondii Challenges with a Single Dose) describing the new vaccines in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of July 4, 2016.
The project was led by Jasdave Chahal, a postdoc at MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and Omar Khan, a postdoc at the Koch Institute.
Both are the first authors of the paper.
These vaccines usually take a long time
to manufacture, and for some diseases they are too risky. Other
vaccines consist of proteins normally produced by the microbe, but
these don't always induce a strong immune response, requiring
researchers to seek an adjuvant (a chemical that enhances the
The idea of using messenger RNA
molecules as vaccines has been around for about 30 years, but one of
the major obstacles has been finding a safe and effective way to
One key advantage of this material is that the researchers can give it a temporary positive charge, which allows it to form close associations with RNA, which is negatively charged. Khan can also control the size and pattern of the final structure.
By inducing the dendrimer-RNA structure
to fold over itself many times, Khan generated spherical vaccine
particles with a diameter of about 150 nanometers. That makes them
of similar size as many viruses, enabling the particles to enter
cells by exploiting the same surface proteins that viruses use for
Once the particles get into cells, the
RNA is translated into proteins that are released and stimulate the
immune system. Significantly, the vaccines were able to stimulate
both arms of the immune system - a 'T cell' response and an antibody
The researchers also believe that their vaccines would be safer than DNA vaccines, another alternative that scientists are pursuing, because unlike DNA, RNA cannot be integrated into the host genome and cause mutations.
This means that when an unexpected flu strain appears, such as the 2009 pandemic-causing H1N1 virus, there is no way to rapidly produce a vaccine against it.
Khan and Chahal plan to start a company to license and commercialize the technology.
In addition to the vaccines they have already designed, they hope to create vaccines for Zika virus and Lyme disease. They are also working on cancer vaccines.
At a recent "Mission: Possible"
competition hosted by the Koch Institute, Khan and Chahal were part
of a team that ended up withdrawing from the competition because an
outside funder, the Advanced Medical Research Foundation,
offered to support them.
These genes, dormant in adults, often become reactivated in a type of cancer known as non-small cell lung tumors.