Vaccines have been a vital part of the fight against disease over the last 200 years. Throughout this period, experts have made significant advancements to improve their safety and effectiveness. Even in recent years, there have been major breakthroughs in vaccine composition, production, and administration. Research is ongoing and vaccines are continually improving.
Dendritic cells are powerful cells that assist in many parts of the immune response. A new vaccine uses dendritic cells to promote antitumor immune responses and extend the life of people with cancer. This vaccine primes certain immune cells called naive T cells to produce special lymphocytes that can identify and eliminate cancer cells.
MRNA vaccines are some of the first vaccines authorized for use in response to the pandemic in many countries around the world. Instead of using a weak or inactivated microbe, mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make proteins that trigger an immune response. This immune response leads to the production of antibodies that protect against getting infected with the real virus. This same technology can be used for cancer treatment.
Using genetically engineered plasmid that contains a DNA sequence of an antigen, DNA vaccines allow cells to directly produce antigens. This then allows the cells to begin the immunological response. While this type of vaccine has seen some testing for veterinary use, and scientists developed candidate DNA plasmid vaccines for SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003, and H1N1 pandemic influenza in 2009, research of its effects on humans continues.
Experts create recombinant DNA (rDNA) molecules by combining genetic material from different sources to form sequences that would not typically be in the genome. They use this new rDNA in vaccines to form immunities against diseases with complex infection processes. Vaccines that use rDNA have seen some use since their invention in the 1980s. However, recent advancements allow the vaccines to use attenuated live viruses to combat other infectious agents. For example, hepatitis B vaccine and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines use recombinant DNA technology.
Peptides can immunize a person against various pathogens by mimicking the pathogens’ naturally occurring proteins. Peptide vaccines have existed since the 1960s. However, modern versions use synthetic peptides combined with adjuvants to ensure an effective immune response and long-lasting protection against pathogens. As research continues, experts hope to use this technology to create vaccines for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Animal cells and products have played a major role in vaccine development. One prime example of this is the use of chicken eggs to develop antigens. However, this is changing thanks to cell-based vaccines. These vaccines use viruses that grow in mammalian tissue culture of cells with a finite lifespan. Not only does this limit contamination and improve production, but it also eliminates the controversial issue of using millions of chicken eggs for vaccines.
Vaccine composition is not the only area that has seen advancements in recent years. Their administration is another major research topic and there are now more options than traditional needle injections. Jet injectors use a high-powered stream to puncture the skin and deliver the vaccine. These injectors provide a similar or better level of effectiveness in comparison to syringe and needle injections and reduce pain associated with vaccination.
Another vaccine delivery method that is in the testing phase uses microneedle technology on a small patch, similar to an adhesive bandage. This stamp-sized patch has around 20,000 projections per square centimeter. This allows for a more effective vaccine response while requiring a smaller dose than a traditional needle injection.
Inhalable aerosol vaccines that protect against conditions like influenza and measles are also rising in popularity. Though an aerosol’s efficacy is often weaker than a syringe and needle vaccine injection, it is a viable alternative for people who cannot receive a shot. Additionally, as research continues, better additives like adjuvants may increase aerosol vaccine effectiveness.
An ongoing issue with vaccines is the “cold chain problem.” Essentially, vaccines require specific, low temperatures for storage which complicates transport and administration. Additionally, attempts to create more resilient vaccines can often interfere with effectiveness. To tackle this issue, some experts are using powder vaccines. Others are testing a membrane that holds virus particles that can extend a vaccine’s viability outside of typical vaccine temperature ranges.
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