Scientists have talked up the benefits of synthetic vaccines since at least 1982, when work at the Pasteur Institute hinted at what was possible. Free from the use of live or inactivated viruses, the production of vaccines would be simpler and safer, while cold-chain concerns would lessen, too.
More than 30 years later, synthetic vaccines have yet to fulfill that promise. However, a paper published this week in PLoS Pathogens went some of the way toward bridging the gap between hype and reality. In the paper, researchers from Oxford and Reading universities describe how they used a particle accelerator--similar to the Large Hadron Collider--to develop a synthetic foot-and-mouth vaccine. The Diamond Light Source particle accelerator near Oxford, England, fires electrons around a ring at near light speed.
Energy from the electrons is then channeled off to laboratories for use in structural analysis. By using the energy for an atomic-level analysis of the foot-and-mouth virus, researchers were able to create a stable synthetic vaccine. "What we have achieved here is close to the holy grail of foot-and-mouth vaccines. Unlike traditional vaccines, there is no chance that the empty shell vaccine could revert to an infectious form," University of Oxford Professor Dave Stuart told the BBC.
Freed from the risk of releasing an infectious form, containment standards for vaccine facilities could come down. As the technique could be applied to diseases affecting the developing world, like polio and hand-foot-and-mouth disease, it is hoped it can lower the barriers to production of vaccines. "Any design strategy that minimizes the chances of accidental virus release would not only make the world a safer place but would lower the bio-containment barriers to production allowing vaccines to be made more cheaply all over the world," polio specialist Dr. Andrew Macadam told the BBC.
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