Vaccines, proteins which assist the body in fighting deadly diseases, must be stored and transported at temperatures below 10oC to prevent denaturation which renders the medication useless. For this reason, vaccines are traditionally stored and shipped in refrigerated containers to maintain the required sub-ambient temperatures. However, the lack of infrastructure in developing countries severely impacts the ability to successfully deliver vaccinations and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50% of vaccines are destroyed during shipment due to a break in the refrigerated supply chain.
The vaccine encapsulation research group in Mark Shiflett’s laboratory comprised of chemical engineering students Kaylee Barr (sophomore), Channary Ny (sophomore), and Elvis Umana (freshman) and led by post-doctoral researcher Dave Minnick are combating this issue using mesoporous silica materials. The research hypothesis developed by Prof. Mark Shiflett, Prof. Bill Picking (pharmaceutical chemistry), and Dr. David Corbin postulates that trapping the vaccine molecules inside of pore channels within the silica materials will stabilize the vaccine by restricting its ability to move. In other words, when the vaccine heats up it is unable to unfold due to conformational restrictions imposed by the silica pore channel.
The vaccine encapsulation research group conducted outstanding work during the 2017-2018 school year and were recently awarded first place in the chemical engineering undergraduate research competition. The team successfully developed a UV-Vis based analytical technique to measure protein concentration and developed experimental methods to load and extract proteins from the silica surface. Most recently they also confirmed their research hypothesis that silica materials indeed stabilize proteins, even at temperatures where they would typically denature and be destroyed. While further research work must be done, Dr. Mark Shiflett believes this could be the first step in revolutionizing the way vaccines are transported around the world, potentially eliminating the current costly and problematic cold chain stabilization method.
From Left to Right: Kaylee Barr (sophomore), Elvis Umana (freshman), Post-doctoral researcher Dave Minnick, and Channary Ny (sophomore).