McMaster University invents new life-saving vaccine method

Researchers at McMaster University have invented a new storage method that can transport life-saving vaccines to previously inaccessible parts of the world.

The invention is a stable and affordable way to store vaccines for weeks at a time at temperatures up to 40 C.

The new method suspends the active components of a vaccine into a one-dose container filled with a sugar-gel combination that will dry to seal in the vaccine. Later, clinicians can restore the vaccine with water and administer it to the patient as they normally would.

Researchers say combining the vaccines and sugars is almost as easy as stirring cream and sugar into a coffee.

To apply the technology to vaccines, the engineers collaborated with health scientists across Hamilton’s campus that specialize in virology and immunology.

The invention will remove the need for constant storage at temperatures between 2 C and 8 C in order to keep current vaccines viable. It will also eliminate almost all the cost of transporting it which can account for 80 per cent of the total cost of inoculation.

The method creates durable and compact doses that would be ideal for shipping the Ebola vaccine to places like Africa, researchers say.

“You can spend all kinds of money developing a vaccine, but if it is deactivated by high temperature an hour before you can give it to someone, it doesn’t matter,” said Ali Ashkar, co-author.

The researchers have tested the method on mice, as they have a similar immune response to that of a human. They used two sample vaccines – the influenza virus and the herpes simplex virus – to inoculate the mice after they exposed them to the virus.

The materials used for this new method have already been approved by the FDA, simplifying the path to commercialization. The researchers are working with a commercial partner to get the technology to market.