Vaccines could be orally administered, UC Berkeley study shows

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UC Berkeley researchers conducted a study that found that a technology they had developed could potentially orally administer vaccines, making the vaccination process needle-free.

By orally administering vaccinations through a pill-sized technology, the method — called MucoJet — would no longer require trained personnel to administer vaccinations, which could improve vaccination rates. Additionally, the technology is expected to be more effective than the traditional method by providing an additional form of immunity, according to Niren Murthy, the principal investigator of UC Berkeley’s Murthy Lab who helped develop MucoJet.

“MucoJet provides mucosal immunity, in addition to the systemic immunity,” Murthy said. “That means you can start fighting off the disease before it even enters your body.”

Dorian Liepmann, a campus bioengineering professor and one of the researchers on the project, said the researchers originally came up with the idea for the study because he and Murthy were talking about how hard it is to take protein drugs, which include vaccines. The margin for absorption of protein drugs is currently only 5 percent, and the two thought they could improve upon this rate.

Murthy said the process of working on the pill was time-consuming. He added that after three years of research, it was the twentieth prototype that finally worked.

MucoJet is a two-compartment plastic device — the exterior component contains water, while the interior part contains two reservoirs separated by a porous plastic membrane and a movable piston. To administer the vaccine, patients would click together the interior and exterior compartments, which ejects the water and dissolves the interior component.

Through the injection process, the vaccine targets specific cells, called antigen-presenting cells, within the tissues of the mouth so the body can fight diseases before they even enter.

Kiana Aran, an assistant professor at the Keck Graduate Institute of the Claremont Consortium who worked on the study while completing her postdoctoral studies at UC Berkeley, said in an email that the technology would improve upon the current methods of vaccination.

“By harnessing the combined immune responses at the site of entry (oral or genital, depending on target organism), it may be possible to create improved protection with safe non-live vaccine components,” Aran said in an email.

According to Aran, the study is still ongoing. Murthy said he believed there may be other applications for the technology. He added that MucoJet could potentially replace needles in other drugs, as well.

The technology has been successfully tested on rabbits, but Aran said there will be continued studies on other larger mammals before it enters the market for use on human patients.

“The next step would be using larger animals (Monkeys or Pigs) for evaluating the system and use a disease model of pathogens to identify the dose requirement and the efficacy of the MucoJet in providing protective immunity,” Aran said in an email.

Contact Ambika Jaykrishna at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_jaykrishna.