PROGRAMMABLE biomaterial that is capable of spontaneously assembling into a fighting structure once injected into a living body has the potential to fight and prevent cancer along with a number of other serious diseases.
Researchers are investigating the use of biodegradable rods known as mesoporous silica rods (MSRs) which can be laden with drug components and delivered via injection. At the vaccination site, the rods assemble into a 3D scaffold; tens of millions of dendritic cells (DCs) flock to the structure and take up residence in the numerous holes referred to as ‘nanopores’. The nanopores can be saturated with the specific drugs before injection; when the DCs move into the nanopores the drugs are released, which facilitates an immune response in the DCs. The DCs then leave the scaffold, travelling to the lymph nodes to direct the immune system to attack specific cells, e.g. cancer cells. The remaining MSR structure biodegrades and dissolves naturally.
Ms Aileen Li, co-lead author and PhD student, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, commented: “Although right now we are focusing on developing a cancer vaccine, in the future we could be able to manipulate which type of DCs or other types of immune cells are recruited to the 3D scaffold by using different kinds of cytokines released from the MSRs.”
“By tuning the surface properties and pore size of the MSRs, and therefore controlling the introduction and release of various proteins and drugs, we can manipulate the immune system to treat multiple diseases,” added Ms Li.
Since they can be rapidly and easily manufactured, the hope for the future is that these vaccines will become widely available and deployed to fight epidemics. The scope of these vaccines could potentially extend to targeting specific types of cells and being used in preventative therapy.
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