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Spider silk vaccine may help prevent cancer

Press Trust of India  |  Geneva 

Scientists have developed microcapsules made of spider silk that can deliver directly to the heart of immune cells.

To fight cancer, researchers increasingly use that stimulate the immune system to identify and destroy cells. However, the desired immune response is is not always guaranteed.

In order to strengthen the efficacy of on the immune system and in particular on T lymphocytes, specialised in the detection of cells researchers, including those from (UNIFR) and Ludwig-Maximilians-University in have developed spider silk microcapsules capable of delivering the vaccine directly to the heart of immune cells.

This process, described in the journal Biomaterials, could also be applied to preventive vaccines to protect against infectious diseases, and constitutes an important step towards vaccines that are stable, easy to use, and resistant to the most extreme storage conditions.

Our immune system is largely based on two types of cells: B lymphocytes, which produce the needed to defend against various infections, and T lymphocytes.

In the case of and certain such as tuberculosis, T lymphocytes need to be stimulated.

However, their activation mechanism is more complex than that of B lymphocytes: to trigger a response, it is necessary to use a peptide, a small piece of protein which, if injected alone, is rapidly degraded by the body even before reaching its target.

"To develop immunotherapeutic drugs effective against cancer, it is essential to generate a significant response of T lymphocytes," said Carole Bourquin, from the (UNIGE), who directed this work.

"As the current vaccines have only limited action on T-cells, it is crucial to develop other procedures to overcome this issue," said Bourquin.

Scientists used synthetic spider silk biopolymers - a lightweight, biocompatible, non-toxic material that is highly resistant to degradation from light and heat.

"We recreated this special silk in the lab to insert a peptide with vaccine properties," said Thomas Scheibel, from the in who participated in the study.

"The resulting protein chains are then salted out to form injectable microparticles," said Scheibel.

Silk microparticles form a transport capsule that protects the vaccine peptide from rapid degradation in the body, and delivers the peptide to the center of the lymph node cells, thereby considerably increasing T lymphocyte immune responses.

"Our study has proved the validity of our technique. We have demonstrated the effectiveness of a new strategy that is extremely stable, easy to manufacture and easily customizable," said Bourquin.

The synthetic silk biopolymer particles demonstrate a high resistance to heat, withstanding over 100 degree Celsius for several hours without damage. In theory, this process would make it possible to develop vaccines that do not require adjuvants and cold chains.

An undeniable advantage, especially in developing countries where one of the great difficulties is the preservation of vaccines

One of the limitations of this process, however, is the size of the microparticles: while the concept is in principle applicable to any peptide, which are all small enough to be incorporated into silk proteins, further research is needed to see if it is also possible to incorporate the larger antigens used in standard vaccines, especially against

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, June 13 2018. 10:55 IST