Xiaowei Liu examines cells to test whether DNA nanostructures could reside comfortably within the appropriate compartment of the cells and be stable for several hours -- long enough to set in motion an immune cascade. (Photo : Biodesign Institute at ASU)
A new delivery system for vaccines has been developed at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University that utilizes DNA nanotechnology. Researchers there have made synthetic vaccines that essentially "piggyback" on DNA.
Immunologist Yung Chang teamed up with DNA nanotechnology expert Hao Yan and other colleagues to publish the paper in an effort to make safer and more effective vaccines.
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"When Hao treated DNA not as a genetic material, but as a scaffolding material, that made me think of possible applications in immunology," said Chang, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology. "This provided a great opportunity to try to use these DNA scaffolds to make a synthetic vaccine."
The team created DNA nanostructures that also contains immune system-stimulating proteins and immune system-boosting compounds. They even experimented with various shapes that would best deliver the vaccine. A pyramid structure was found to give the best results.
"We wanted to test several different sizes and shapes of DNA nanostructures and attach molecules to them to see if they could trigger an immune response," said Yan Liu, another member of the research team.
The team also confirmed the safety of the vaccine complex because no immune response was triggered when the DNA was introduced alone.
"We were very pleased," said Chang. "It was so nice to see the results as we predicted. Many times in biology we don't see that."
DNA nanotechnology is a relatively young field and the possibilities it offers could expand the arsenal that public officials and physicians have to treat diseases.
"With this proof of concept, the range of antigens that we could use for synthetic vaccine develop is really unlimited," said Chang.