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Scientists Find Method to Stabilize Vaccines in Heat

Scientists at Britain's Oxford University have found a way to keep vaccines stable without refrigeration, even in tropical temperatures. Scientists say the discovery could revolutionize vaccination efforts, especially in the developing world where infectious diseases kill millions of people every year.

The Oxford Scientists say they have found a way to store two different virus-based vaccines for up to six months at 45-degrees Celsius.

And, they say, the technology is cheap.

Matt Cottingham led the research:

"We do not envisage this being any more expensive than the syringe and needle that we already have to use anyway," he said.

He says the method is simple. The vaccine is mixed with two types of sugar and then left to dry on a filter. This preserves the vaccine until it is ready to be used. It can be reactivated in just a few seconds by flushing it with water.

Cottingham says his team experimented with fragile viruses, so he says he is hopeful that having stabilized these, other vaccines should be easier to preserve.

He says the breakthrough could revolutionize vaccination in the developing world.

"At the moment about 80 percent of babies worldwide are vaccinated, so there is 20 percent there who are not currently accessible," said Matt Cottingham. "And actually in somewhere like Africa, that is a lot more because lots of people live in remote villages where there is essentially no infrastructure and health care at all."

Dan Thomas is from GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership that works to bring immunization to 72 of the world's poorest countries.

He says keeping vaccines cold is one of the major hurdles in the battle to immunize.

"Keeping vaccines cold all the way from the factory to the children who need the vaccines in the poorest and most remote communities is always a challenge," said Dan Thomas.

He says in remote parts of developing countries there often is no infrastructure to keep vaccines cold.

"Refrigeration units can break down, they require electricity or fuel, which is in the poorest parts of the world sometimes in limited supply or there are breakdowns in the electrical systems," he said. "So if we can remove that challenge by having vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated, then that is going to make the job of delivering vaccines much easier."

The Oxford scientists say the next step is to develop the technique and see if it can be made on an industrial basis - they say it could be ready within five years. Their research was published in the journal Science Translation Medicine.

The World Health Organization says keeping vaccines cold costs up to $200 million a year in developing countries - increasing the cost of vaccination by almost 20 percent.