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No Need Of Vaccine Storage Refrigerators; ‘Ensilication’ Will Enable Storage Of Vaccines And Proteins At Room Temperature

First Posted: Apr 25, 2017 05:20 AM EDT

A team of scientists from the University of Bath and University of Newcastle have created a new method of storing vaccines, antibodies and other therapeutic proteins. The new method does not require cold storage conditions.

Proteins are extremely sensitive to temperature. The only conventional way to ensure that they remain functional is by keeping them refrigerated. Due to this reason, the transport and storage of vaccines has become exceedingly costly. A momentary lapse in the cold chain of transportation and storage can degrade the proteins and make them therapeutically ineffective.

Lead researcher of the study Asel Sartbaeva from the University of Bath further explained that a thermally degraded vaccine is like a boiled egg that cannot be unboiled later. Vaccines worth millions of dollars are wasted every year due to unavailability of suitable cold conditions for their storage, UPI reported.

The newly developed method enables stabilizing these proteins in their powder form so that they remain functionally active even when they are stored in room temperature. The scientists found that encasing the proteins (antibodies, enzymes and vaccines) in small cages of silica protects them against temperature mediated degradation. They named this process "ensilication."

Silica is an inert compound that naturally occurs in sand. It does not react with the proteins or change their molecular structure and function. The scientists found that when silica is mixed with the therapeutic proteins, the silicon dioxide starts encasing the proteins to form close and compact structures. The resultant powdered proteins are extremely stable and can survive up to 100 degrees Celsius, Phys.org reported.

According to the article published in the Scientific Reports journal, Asel Sartbaeva and his team could successfully ensilicate three therapeutic proteins, including tetanus vaccine, horse hemoglobin and an enzyme extracted from egg white. They are planning to test more vaccines, proteins and bio-pharmaceutical compounds with the help of this densification strategy.

According to experts, the scope of application of the ensilication method in the biopharmaceutical drug and vaccine industry is huge. The most direct implication of the method will be the ability to transport vaccines and protein-based drugs to point of care in remote areas of developing countries. This will also help in accomplishing mass vaccination programs, especially for children.

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