Traditionally, vaccinations have had to use dead or inactive viruses in order to fight off viral infections. However, a group of U.S. scientists have created a new method that utilizes nano-sized gold particles in order to mimic a virus and carry specific kinds of proteins to a body’s immune cells.
In a recent study, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was targeted by these scientists. RSV is the leading cause of lower respiratory infections that has caused both death and severe illnesses, particularly in the elderly and children. Its effects partially come from the F protein that coats the surface of the virus. This protein allows the virus to enter into cells and causes those cells to stick together, making it difficult to eliminate. The body’s own natural defense is generally directed at that protein, but researchers have not been able to create a successful vaccination against it. This new vaccination technique could trigger an immune response that the body would remember if a subject became infected with a real virus.
In this particular study, scientists created gold nanorods coated with the RSV F proteins. The ability of the nanorods to deliver the F protein to immune cells was then tested on adult blood samples. Once these samples were analyzed, it was discovered that the nanorods were both capable of mimicking the virus and stimulating an immune response, but also proved to be non-toxic to human cells.
According to Professor James Crow, lead author of the study:
“A vaccine for RSV, which is the major cause of viral pneumonia in children, is sorely needed. This study shows that we have developed methods for putting RSV F protein into exceptionally small particles and presenting it to immune cells in a format that physically mimics the virus. Furthermore, the particles themselves are not infectious.”
Professor Crowe also believes that the gold nanorods’ use may not be limited just to RSV. This method could also be used to develop vaccines for just about any virus and even against bacteria and fungi.