January 14, 2015
In the fight against disease, new drugs are the celebrities. Everyone wants to hear about the new vaccine for Ebola, or the new antibiotic that will crush resistant strains of tuberculosis.
But how those drugs get into the body and quickly spread to attack the disease are equally important. Advances in drug delivery are often overshadowed by the new drugs themselves, but they can be just as beneficial.
Take, for example, a new study from NC State University and UNC Chapel Hill, which may help in the development of new inhalable vaccines for pneumonia and the flu.
Biochemists Cathy Romen and Greg Robbins, affiliated with both universities, found that controlling the electrical charge on the surface of vaccine particles can influence how the immune system responds to it.
Inhalable medicines are dispensed in very tiny particles. They are suspended in the air a patient breathes and drawn into the lungs. Using technology developed at UNC Chapel Hill, Romen and Robbins were able to control whether those aerosolized particles had a positive or negative charge.
It turns out that the negatively charged particles did not elicit a strong response from the immune system – which is what you want to see after a vaccine – but positively charged particles caused the immune system to build up strong antibodies.
While this may seem like a small distinction, those antibodies are what provide protection from diseases down the road, and are an essential part of the vaccine. By giving the particles a positive charge, drug developers may be able to give their vaccines an extra boost.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
— Daniel Lane
Daniel Lane covers science, engineering, medicine and the environment in North Carolina.