Australian scientists have developed a technique that could be a “game changer” for vaccines by ending the need to refrigerate them.
A team of CSIRO scientists have spent the past three years trying to find out how to transport and store live vaccines without keeping them at sub-zero temperatures.
CSIRO scientist and immunologist Dr Daniel Layton, who helped lead the project, told AAP the breakthrough came after dozens of attempts to keep the vaccine viable.
The World Health Organisation estimates up to half of the world’s vaccines are wasted each year because they are spoilt, due to temperature sensitivities.
Dr Layton spoke to AAP from a light-filled laboratory overlooking Geelong Bay at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness where the technique was developed. The research has now been peer reviewed and published in the scientific journal Acta Biomaterialia.
One of the two vaccines the scientists tested their technique on is used to tackle Newcastle disease in poultry, which can kill hundreds of thousands of birds at a time.
While Australia is free from severe strains, the disease is “rampant” in some developing countries because of a lack of access to vaccines.
The team was able to successfully store the vaccines at 37C for several weeks, when usually they only last a few days without refrigeration.
“If we were able to deliver a vaccine at room temperature or above, potentially we will be able to start vaccinating poultry in developing nations as well,” Dr Layton said.
“By being able to transport the vaccine at room temperature they will be able to keep the stocks on the shelf and be able to vaccinate more readily, and potentially waste a lot less vaccines.”
The researchers encapsulated the live virus vaccines with a dissolvable crystalline material called MOFs (metal organic frameworks), which protect the vaccines from heat stress.
The scientists also successfully tested their technique on Influenza A.
CSIRO senior scientist Dr Cara Doherty said MOFs are the perfect material for protecting vaccines from temperature variations.
“MOFs work similarly to a scaffold you might put around your house, once you remove the scaffold, your house remains – which is what happens when we dissolve the MOFs in a vaccine,” she said.
CSIRO researcher and author of the paper, Dr Ruhani Singh, said the technique was cost-effective and scalable.
“This world-first approach of stabilising a vaccine with MOFs is simple, rapid, and scalable because it takes one step.”
Dr Layton told AAP the implications for vaccines everywhere were huge, including for those used to combat COVID-19, of which some need to be stored at minus 70C or below.
“We’ve started to turn our attention to – can we encapsulate mRNA vaccines using the same technology?
“Vaccines such as the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine actually use live viral technology, so we may be able to translate our findings from this into human vaccines.”
CSIRO scientists are now looking to partner with animal and human health companies to turn this breakthrough into a real-world solution.
They expect the method will be available for veterinary and agricultural vaccines within three to five years, and within the decade for human vaccines.
(Australian Associated Press)