Pollen grains--the frustrating cause of sneezing, runny noses and itchy eyes in those with hay fever--could prove an effective method for delivering oral vaccines.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) provided funding to Harvinder Gill, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech University, through its Young Faculty Awards to support his research into using a pollen-based platform for packaging and delivering orally consumed vaccines.
The technique relies on the naturally durable husk of a pollen grain. The idea is to clean out the contents of the grain--the allergy-inducing plant proteins and fats--and refill the empty shell with vaccine. People would then ingest the vaccine-filled grains by mouth. The sturdy shells can survive conditions inside the body, allowing vaccine delivery to the gut.
Oral vaccines provide several benefits: They're efficient, painless and can be self-administered. And using pollen husks as a delivery system has the added bonus of preventing the degradation of medicine that sometimes occurs when stomach acids and digestive processes get to a pill.
We'll see how Gill's research using the cheap and plentiful material pans out.
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