Silk could eliminate 'cold chain' need

Self-standing silk protein biomaterial matrices could prove a way for temperature-sensitive vaccines to shirk the so-called "cold chain," a series of refrigerating tactics used to move a vaccine safely from production to patient.

Wrapping vaccines in silk stabilized the chemicals in temperatures up to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of more than 6 months, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The proteins in silk help prevent the breakdown of folds of chemicals in vaccines, a decomposition caused by high temperatures.

Developing nations don't always have a cold chain, thereby severely limiting the distribution of therapeutics to those in need, Dr. David Kaplan, a bioengineering professor at Tufts University and lead author of the study, tells NPR. The use of silk could make that a moot point.

The study used the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and two antibiotics to test the benefits of silk against elevated temperatures.

Kaplan told NPR how reducing or eradicating the cold chain could change the face of vaccine distribution: "Think of a Band-Aid with small little spikes," Kaplan said. "When you put it on the skin, it penetrates the skin just through the outside layer so it doesn't hurt. You can envision making these Band-Aids with vaccines and other drugs in there during the manufacturing, and distribute them without worrying about temperature exposure. And then when you're ready to use it, you just put it on your skin."

- see the NPR story
- get more from Scientific American
- read the abstract

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