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Customizable Vaccine Could Fight Numerous Diseases

  • Jessica Berman

As the Zika virus spreads through the Americas and into the United States, there's been a scramble to develop a vaccine against it. Some of those vaccines are now entering clinical trials.

Omar Kahn, a chemical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hopes his customizable vaccine will soon follow.

The vaccine uses messenger RNA, a genetic material that researchers program to fight any disease-causing organism by stimulating an amplified immune response in the body. The messenger RNA is bound to a nanoparticle that delivers it into cells.

"So things like, for example, Zika or the recent Ebola outbreak, we can rapidly respond to that within seven days,” Khan said. “So when there is an extraordinary need and you need something that is safe, then we have the ability to make that happen."

It's an idea that has been around for a long time. However, getting the vaccine into cells has been a challenge, so MIT researchers designed it to be as small as the virus it's targeting.

The scientists developed and tested vaccines against Ebola and H1N1 flu that proved 100 percent effective in lab mice in a study published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since that study, according to Kahn, the researchers have tested an RNA vaccine for Zika in mice and have had similarly successful results.

"So, we are definitely interested to see if these vaccines could be used to treat people with cancer, or even for patients that may be at risk for specific cancers,” said Daniel Anderson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Some material for this report was provided by Reuters.

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