Current vaccines are limited--they lack the ability to trigger specific immune responses or target specific parts of the body. DNA nanotechnology can help develop vaccines that have the ability to do the things current vaccines cannot.
Scientists at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University are using DNA nanotechnology to make synthetic vaccines. Biodesign immunologist Yung Chang worked with DNA nanotechnology innovator Hao Yan to create the first vaccine that can be safely delivered on self-assembled DNA nanostructures. Chang and Yan' work is supported by funding from the Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.
Safety is an important concern when dealing with nanotechnology in the human body because nanoparticles can travel through parts of the body that larger objects cannot. "The major concern was: Is it safe? We wanted to mimic the assembly of molecules that can trigger a safe and powerful immune response in the body. As Hao's team has developed a variety of interesting DNA nanostructures during the past few years, we have been collaborating more and more with a goal to further explore some promising human health applications of this technology." says Chang.
These new vaccines use genetic engineering to create virus-like particles (VLPs) that contain proteins that stimulate the immune system. Using this method, they were able to succesfully trigger an immune response from mice that was nine times greater than using other methods.
"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." Chang and Yan envision future uses of the vaccine where they could tailor the immune responce or require mulitple components. This form of vaccine could also be developed and used for cancer.
DNA nanotechnology is a young field, and research is advancing quickly to be able to make an impact on healthcare, the interface between the human body and electronics, and other applications.