By Cameron Chai
Duke University Medical Center researchers have developed synthetic nanoparticles capable of directly targeting lymph nodes, paving the way to optimize vaccine responses and develop customized vaccines.
The strategy of the researchers is based on the way of communication of mast cells present in the skin. The mast cells release nanoparticles, termed as granules, for communicating directly with the lymph nodes. The synthetic nanoparticles comprise a carbohydrate backbone that has small, encapsulated inflammatory mediators like tumor necrosis factor. When injected, these synthetic granules imitate the characteristics of the natural granules released by the mast cells, which in turn allows the nanoparticles to directly target the lymph nodes and ensure the timely delivery of the encapsulated material.
The researchers have designed nanoparticle-based vaccine adjuvants that can travel from the injection point to the lymph nodes at which they interact with several cell kinds of the immune system to trigger the correct reaction needed for an optimized immune response. During the study, the researchers demonstrated an improved survival rate in mice vaccinated with drugs containing the nanoparticle-based adjuvants against lethal levels of influenza A virus, because of the effective immune response triggered by the particles.
The research team also demonstrated that another type of immune factor such as IL-12 can be loaded with the same nanoparticles, causing a specific response towards another set of lymphocytes, a crucial finding to develop vaccines for some kinds of infections that need unique responses to be overcome by the body. According to one of the researchers, Soman Abraham, the mast-cell-inspired synthetic nanoparticles will soon be used in humans as all additional materials and individual immune system factors or cytokines packed into these nanoparticles have already received FDA approval for human use.