Little bugs, big issues: making smarter vaccines for complex diseases
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Vaccines are invaluable in ensuring the protection of our species against constantly evolving, dangerous pathogens that threaten the human population. The vaccination strategy however, has been largely unchanged for the two centuries, using inactivated pathogenic material to our immune systems called adjuvants to get our body to recognize the material and develop an immunity to them. This strategy has many issues. Different people react at different levels to the many components in the vaccines, potentially causing harmful side effects. Also, some disease-causing pathogens are complex and mutate quickly, making an inactivated version too nonspecific to create a protective response. To combat this, very specific subunits or portions of a pathogen can be used as vaccines to enable much more control over what aspect of a pathogen our body is exposed to and taught to respond to. These subunits offer more safety, but they are not good at inducing a strong immune response. My project seeks to increase the immune response to these subunit vaccines by forcing them into nanoclusters that look bigger and more foreign to our immune cells. This causes them to be processed more like a pathogen and induces a stronger immune response. By using only the subunits that we want the body to develop an immunity to as the building blocks of the material, we increase the development of protection against a very specific part of a pathogen. When dealing with many different diseases with many different subunits, this allowed more safety and control over what we administer to patients. This nanocluster method has shown improvements in inducing immune cell response to subunit vaccine components. This subunit nanocluster delivery system has the potential to make safer, more protective vaccines for the wide range of diseases that have evolved to threaten us today.