Monday, March 23, 2009

Mansour Mohamadzadeh is my god.

For anyone who knows me well, you know there are only 2 things that truly terrify me. The first is moths. They're just creepy. The second, and more logical, is needles. I am a big baby when it comes to shots. I've passed out after getting them. I need someone to hold my hand and talk me through them. Getting novocaine in my foot for minor surgery is the WORST experience of my life. I still have nightmares about the 4" long needle sticking out of my heel, slowly pumping the burning liquid into my flesh for over a minute while I had to sit perfectly still, watching in horror...

Say sayonara to these evil things!

Anyhow, this is why Mansour Mohamadzadeh is my god. He's a researcher from Northwestern University who is developing a new way to deliver vaccines - one that's needle-free. Soon enough getting vaccinated may be as easy as drinking a yogurt smoothie.

That's because Mohamadzadeh's revolutionary technology utilizes probiotics, the healthy bacteria found in dairy products, to carry the vaccine. So far a pre-clinical study has successfully used the method to create immunity to Anthrax exposure, with the response even better than the injected version. And his reasoning runs deeper than just making vaccinations more appealing to babies like me. Delivering vaccines to the gut instead of the muscular tissue allows the body to launch a full-scale immune response needed for complete and successful vaccination.

Vaccines work because of how our immune system responds to invading material. All disease agents are unique on the outside. They express different molecules for all kinds of functions, just like our own cells do. Specialized immune cells find foreign compounds, called antigens, and memorize them. They then tell other cells to attack and destroy anything that carries those antigens. After all the invaders have been destroyed, our immune system stores the memorized antigens for later - that way if the same infection occurs, our response is faster and more efficient.

The dendritic cell (green) engulfs the lactobacilli (small blue dots)
which release the vaccine. The dendritic cells will induce the
proliferation and the activation of other immune cells which will
eliminate the infected cells and store the antigen for later infections.

Vaccines take advantage of this immune behavior by providing the antigens for something without putting live, harmful agents into the body. Often, vaccines carry dead bacteria or viruses or proteins from them, so that the immune cells can identify and memorize them. Once the antigens are stored, an infection by the living form of the disease is unable to evade the immune response.

The bigger and better the immune response to something, the higher the chance that we'll be immune in the future. That's why the Northwestern team wants to target the stomach. The small intestine launches far more intense immune reactions than muscles do because that's where our body is used to having to fight. It's far more common in nature for us to end up with invaders in our gut than in our muscles simply because that's where our body is exposed to the outside world through eating. However, until now, most vaccine proteins couldn't make it past the digestive juices in the stomach. Mohamadzadeh solved this problem by putting the antigens in lactobacillus bacteria, which protect them until they reach their target.

Mohamadzadeh's vaccine technology isn't limited to Anthrax and bacterial diseases. He currently is developing one for breast cancer using the Her2/neu antigen, a protein highly produced by breast tumor cells, to train the immune system to destroy any cells producing Her2/neu. He also is developing a "multi-tasking" cancer vaccine against breast, colon and pancreatic cancer that soon will be tested in mouse models. His methods can be used for just about every vaccine we currently use, from Hepatitis to the Flu. Eventually, Mohamadzadeh hopes this technology can be used for a vaccine against HIV and other fatal diseases.

Personally, I just want them to hurry up and develop these probiotics for the basics. If I can get vaccinated without a needle, I'll be like a kid in a candy store. I don't care how gross the drink is - you can sign me up right now!



PillowNaut said...

Using probiotics is brilliant! This is very exciting news...

Sonia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sonia said...

wow this is great news!

now they need to develop a method to take out blood samples without needles!

Ferox said...

We've been using a needle-free vaccine to vaccinate dogs against bordatella. We squirt it down their nose to induce a local immunity- which is a lot of 'fun' but seems to work.
I have also heard rumours or using air pressure technology to force vaccines through skin without needles, but I'm not sure on that one.