DNA Vaccines: Can They Fight Zika, Other Viruses?

First Posted: Dec 17, 2016 02:58 AM EST

Researchers are on the journey of finding the ultimate vaccine for the dreaded Zika virus. They are developing DNA vaccines, which could shield the body against infectious disease outbreaks.

A team of researchers in the U.S. and Canada has injected dozens of volunteers over the past few months with two competing DNA vaccines. These vaccines are developed and designed to provide immunity and protection from the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has spread across the nation and the globe at an alarming speed.

The Promise Of DNA Vaccines

The new Zika virus outbreak started last year in the Americas and has spread rapidly in Asia and even in the United States. Pharmaceutical companies, as well as scientists worldwide, are on the journey of finding the vaccine that could prevent the spread of this infection. Zika virus has been associated with hundreds of birth defects including brain damage, microcephaly and fetal deaths, mostly in Brazil.

The new DNA vaccines, made with synthetic DNA, can be developed and manufactured quickly. Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., which develops the vaccines in the trial, aims to market the vaccine with a new device called electroporation. This device is a tool that is a size of an electric toothbrush and uses electricity to help distribute the DNA vaccine directly into human cells, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Despite the race to create the vaccine that could successfully protect the body against Zika and other infectious diseases, there have been many hurdles along the way. However, many scientists believe that DNA vaccines could be successful in stemming infectious diseases for they could provide long-lasting immunity to the body.

DNA Vaccines vs. Traditional Vaccines

Scientists can develop DNA vaccines within just weeks and start human trials within months. On the other hand, conventional vaccines take years to develop and to start trials on humans. They also cost more.

DNA vaccines provide longer-lasting immunity compared with traditional vaccines. In some cases, they can even cure the illness they are designed to protect against.

What Are DNA Vaccines?

DNA or genetic immunization is a novel technique used to effectively trigger cellular or humoral immune responses to protein antigens. When these genetic materials are injected into humans, the cells will produce the introduced gene products, Biology reports.

The direct injection of naked plasmid DNA prompts strong immune responses to the antigen encoded by the gene vaccine. Aside from protecting the body from the potent Zika virus, it could also protect the body against other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), ebola and other tropical diseases.


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