Many viruses and bacteria infect humans through mucosal surfaces, such as those in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive tract. To help fight these pathogens, scientists are working on vaccines that can establish a front line of defense at mucosal surfaces.
Vaccines can be delivered to the lungs via an aerosol spray, but the lungs often clear away the vaccine before it can provoke an immune response. To overcome that, MIT engineers have developed a new type of nanoparticle that protects the vaccine long enough to generate a strong immune response — not only in the lungs, but also in mucosal surfaces far from the vaccination site, such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts.
Such vaccines could help protect against influenza and other respiratory viruses, or prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, herpes simplex virus and human papilloma virus, says Darrell Irvine, an MIT professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering and the leader of the research team. He is also exploring use of the particles to deliver cancer vaccines.