Soap bubbles make simple, inexpensive delivery vehicles for drugs, vaccines

Soap bubbles (red) releasing a payload into a cell--Courtesy of U. of Maryland

Researchers at the University of Maryland have taken to using soap bubbles as vehicles for drugs and vaccines. The biomolecule-tagged spheres have been shown to be cost-effective and able to work with a broad spectrum of therapeutics, the scientists say.

The functionalized catanionic surfactant vesicles are made of components that act like soap in that they have both hydrophobic and hydrophilic sections and thus form bubbles spontaneously. Liposomes do this also, but these soap bubbles form more quickly, last longer and require fewer raw materials, according to a report from the university.

The vehicles can be filled with drugs or tagged with antigens designed to initiate an immune response in the form of a vaccine. In mice, the delivery method worked well against the disease tularemia, inoculating the mice with a vaccine that produced high antibody levels, according to an earlier study. It also worked well as a vaccine against the bacteria that cause gonorrhea.

"We have created a technology platform that allows us to make drug and vaccine delivery vehicles that have previously been very difficult to prepare," lead author Philip DeShong said in a statement. "If someone provides us with an antigen, it is possible for us to formulate it into a vaccine, purify it and have 1,000 doses ready within 72 hours."

Last May, the team brought in $1 million from MedImmune to support the spinoff SD Nanosciences, founded in 2007. Currently the scientists are looking to tailor the vesicles for cancer drug delivery.

"In principle, there are thousands of viruses we could make vaccines against, there are thousands of bacterial infections we could make vaccines against, and there are thousands of drugs we could deliver in a targeted way into the body," said DeShong. "We've created a flexible platform with these decorated soap bubbles that should be able to make them all of them."

- here's the release