New method of nasal vaccine delivery could lead to better vaccines for HIV and COVID-19: Promising vaccine technology has generated strong immune responses in mice and primates

A University of Minnesota assistant professor is part of a team that has developed a new way to effectively deliver vaccines through mucosal tissues in the nose that could lead to better protection against pathogens like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The researchers tested the technology on mice and non-human primates and found that the vaccine generated strong immune responses, paving the way for further study and development of nasal vaccines.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine, an interdisciplinary medical journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Historically, nasal vaccines — which would be administered through a nebulizer or spray — have been difficult to make successfully. The mucus in the nose typically clears out or breaks down the vaccine’s components, such as protein antigens, before they can access underlying tissues to activate the body’s immune cells.

However, nasal vaccines have the potential to generate even more immunity than current vaccines administered by injection with needles. This is because for many diseases that are transmitted through the upper respiratory system, such as COVID-19, nasal vaccines have teh potential to trigger immune responses in the exact areas of infection — the nose, mouth, and lungs. Some nasal vaccines do exist, but most use live attenuated pathogens, which cannot be given to people who are immunocompromised.

“Traditional vaccines that are injected are not usually geared toward establishing immunity in these mucosal tissues,” explained Brittany Hartwell, first author on the paper and an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering. “They’re more geared toward establishing immunity in the blood — sort of like a backup defense. But the idea of establishing immunity in the mucosal areas, like the nose, is that it establishes more of a frontline defense that can better protect against transmission of these diseases.”

Hartwell said that with this new vaccine, not only did they establish strong mucosal antibody responses, but they also activated really strong antibody responses in the blood.

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