by Angie Pannier, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
By 2034 we will have safer, faster, and easier vaccines in pill form. Traditional vaccines that use weakened or dead viruses to stimulate an immune reaction will seem so 20th century. Traditional vaccine development and distribution is time-consuming and complex. The pace of current vaccine development will not be able to keep up with multiplying infectious disease threats, such as rotavirus, Toxoplasma, and pandemic influenza.
Additionally, current vaccines can’t survive without refrigeration, limiting their use in less developed countries where zoonotic and infectious disease threats often originate. A new approach with materials and hybrid particulates that protect and deliver genetic material to prompt an immune response are necessary to make stable, oral vaccines a reality.
Our multidisciplinary team at the University of Nebraska is developing a new model for vaccine development and delivery with expertise in food science, virology, mathematical models in telecommunications networking, biology of infectious diseases, and biological systems engineering. The new vaccine model would contain a replica of encoded genetic material from a virus embedded in a polymer found in the exoskeleton of crustaceans and encapsulated in an outer shell made from a biodegradable protein from corn, which is already used in food and drug manufacturing to repel water and external elements.
Due to this unique shell, the vaccine can be taken orally and protected as it moves through the digestive system. Once it reaches the intestine, the shell dissolves so that the inner core of genetic material can be absorbed by the body, prompt an immune reaction, and build up future immunity.
Since the core of the vaccine is made of genetic material rather than viral cells, it is very stable and can be transported and delivered without refrigeration. The use of mathematical modeling in telecommunications networking will identify the most efficient gene delivery for vaccine development, reducing the need for extensive analysis of every target through animal trials. Vaccines based on this model are already used in veterinary medicine. By 2034, we will have safer, faster, and easier vaccines for human use as well.
Dr. Angela K. Pannier is Biomedical Engineer, Associate Professor, and William E. Brooks Engineering Leadership Fellow in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She also holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Surgery and the Mary and Dick Holland Regenerative Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She has received support for her research from the National Science Foundation and NASA.
Dr. Pannier’s collaborators on the research described above are: Dr. Tadeusz Wysocki, Professor of Computer and Electronics Engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Dr. Amanda Ramer-Tait, Assistant Professor of Food Science and Technology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Dr. Deborah Brown, Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Dr. Paul Davis, Assistant Professor of Biology, University of Nebraska at Omaha.