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  • It's safe to say that vaccines have come a long way. Gone are the days of scraping some

  • pus from a cow and giving it to your wife and sons. Sure it was worth it to prevent

  • smallpox, but still...

  • After the last year we've seen just how progressive we can be at developing a vaccine. Never before have we

  • made one so efficiently, but COVID has done more than

  • just spark the development of COVID-specific vaccines, it has actually helped advance the

  • entire industry in an unprecedented way.

  • Vaccinology has been a Field of Dreams that's been replete with innovation for the last

  • 225 years. And I think the COVID 19 pandemic that started more than a year ago has brought

  • this to the fore. My name is Bali Pulendran, I am a professor of pathology and microbiology

  • and immunology.

  • When it comes to the future of vaccines, there are a lot of avenues that are making strides

  • with things like mRNA vaccines, delivery systems, epigenetics, and universal vaccines... and spoiler

  • alert, we're getting a lot closer to a certain type of universal vaccine than you may think.

  • Vaccinology is a discipline that is positioned at the focal point of immunology, virology

  • microbiology, public health, economics, sociology, ethics, and even international diplomacy.

  • So when one thinks about the future of vaccines, one has to think about each of these elements,

  • the future of each of these elements.

  • One of the most exciting developments for the invention and distribution of vaccines

  • is mRNA.

  • mRNA vaccines is of course the new kid on the block, they've been extraordinarily efficacious

  • in protecting against COVID-19. And the thing that everyone says is that these vaccines

  • were developed in such a short time, in a period of 11 months or so. But the important point

  • to remember is that it's not as if we didn't know about the mRNA vaccines prior to the

  • emergence of COVID-19, there were teams of scientists working on this concept for years.

  • It just so happened that when COVID-19 emerged, they were rapidly able to pivot and to use

  • that technology, that investment that they had made over the last decade.

  • mRNA or messenger RNA vaccines are such game changers because of how they're made, a traditional

  • viral vaccine will deliver an inactivated, weakened or small piece of a virus to stimulate

  • an immune response. But the neat thing about mRNA vaccines, is that they deliver the genetic

  • instructions directly to your cells, telling them exactly how to make the specific protein

  • needed to generate that immune response. It's tapping into the way that mRNA typically helps

  • cells to build, maintain and repair things in our bodies using proteins.

  • Now why this is so unique is that if you didn't have this mRNA technology, you would not have

  • access to our own cellular factories the so called ribosomes, we would be so dependent

  • on manmade factories to produce these proteins and protein production is a whole new step

  • and that can take a very long time several months perhaps a year or longer. So effectively

  • what we've done is to bypass that entire protein production and use our body's own factories

  • to our benefit.

  • Right so mRNA means that you don't have to wait for all those proteins to be made, you

  • can just teach cells, how to make it on their own. It's a teach a man to fish kind of thing,

  • or like a teach a ribosome to mass produce a spike protein kind of thing. But even mRNA

  • vaccines are limited in that they teach the immune system to respond specifically to one

  • virus. So what if our vaccines didn't have to be so specialized per virus, or in the

  • case of something like influenza, so specific to each variant of the virus, the development

  • of a vaccine is predicated on the concept of teaching the immune system to recognize

  • a very specific antigen, and priming cells that recognizes antigen in this case. Now,

  • this is the concept on which vaccines are made immunological memory so that when this

  • person encounters that particular pathogen decades afterwards, he or she has these memory

  • cells that recognize that pathogen and have the capacity to respond in a much more accelerated

  • manner and a much more invigorated or enhanced manner.

  • But if we could pull everything we know about influenza viruses or the different kinds of

  • coronaviruses and teach the immune system to look for more than just individual antigens,

  • then we would bypass the need for these hyper specific vaccines. This vaccine would teach

  • the immune system to respond to anything that looks like a flu virus, even if it hasn't

  • encountered its exact makeup before.

  • So I would say over the next five to 10 year frame and I think I'm being quite conservative.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if we have something that looked like a universal influenza vaccine

  • that's ready for deployment. That's great,

  • but let's zoom out even further. Are we at all close to a vaccine that would just fight

  • off anything? One shot to rule them all?

  • Within a few seconds of you getting your COVID vaccine shot your innate immune system is

  • activated, and it teaches the T cells and the B cells to launch a vaccine response.

  • Now, recent work over the last, I would say two or three years, suggests that the innate

  • immune system can have another role. It's not just a short-lived response that merely

  • teaches the T and B cells to do their job, but it can also have a response that lasts

  • a bit longer, not just a few days but perhaps a few weeks and maybe even a few months, and

  • that response can actually fight off infections.

  • And this is where it gets interesting. Instead of having to wait for your adaptive immune

  • system that's those T and B cells to learn how to find and fight or virus, triggering

  • what are called epigenetic changes in the cells of the innate response could simply

  • tell the immune system to kill a virus right away.

  • So if you could deliver an adjuvant that could cause epigenetic imprinting and a heightened

  • degree of resistance in the innate immune system for some period of time, perhaps, you

  • know, a few weeks or maybe a few months, that would provide an effective sort of stopgap

  • measure that would confer a degree of protection against any virus that could emerge, then

  • effectively you bridge that gap that critical window of time of a few months in which people

  • are now being exposed to this virus but we don't have conventional vaccines.

  • So in short, you'd be getting a vaccine that turbocharges the innate response via epigenetic

  • imprinting to blast any virus that comes along, but that could be enough for us to keep a

  • disease at bay while we develop long term adaptive vaccines, when we have a mysterious

  • new virus going around. But while we wait for these turbo vaccines, those of us with

  • trypanophobia, just want to know when we can get vaccines that don't require a needle,

  • Are we

  • always going to get an injection, or are there other types of vaccines? Well this is a question

  • my 11 year old daughter asks me constantly, there are efforts underway to mucosal

  • vaccines. These are vaccines that can be delivered orally, perhaps intranasally, and the great

  • advantage of mucosal vaccines, is that they could be administered, much more easily and these

  • issues come into play in the developing world.

It's safe to say that vaccines have come a long way. Gone are the days of scraping some

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B1 mrna immune immune system innate response system

A Universal Vaccine May Be Closer Than You Think

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    Summer posted on 2021/07/09
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