Hamilton, ON – A project at McMaster University is receiving $112,000 in seed funding from Grand Challenges Canada. The project, to be led by Carlos Filipe in the university’s chemical engineering department and Ali Ashkar of the McMaster Immunology Research Centre, will adapt an existing technology to make vaccines for deadly illnesses more affordable and available for use in resource-poor areas.
The group will be using technology that McMaster’s Biointerfaces Institute developed earlier this year. Using an idea from chemical engineering PhD student Sana Jahanshahi-Anbuhi, the group first created a way to store fragile biologics at room temperature by embedding them in the same kind of dissolvable gel used in Listerine breath strips, which provides a protective barrier.
In that first project, the team was able to store fragile enzymes and other agents in tiny pills that enable easy, cheap and immediate water testing in the field. The process replaces cumbersome, slow and expensive lab tests.
The team that developed the water-testing pill realized the technology could be used in many more applications, including vaccines, and the Grand Challenges support will allow them to test the same idea with vaccines for diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and measles.
“It’s the same recipe,” said Filipe. “I think it’s within our grasp, at least for some vaccines.”
Today, such vaccines require refrigeration, making them expensive to store and transport, often putting them out of reach of people in developing countries.
If successful, the result would be vaccines that can be transported and stored virtually anywhere, at low cost, and reconstituted on site using sterile water.
“If you can help a single person,” said Filipe, “that really makes research worthwhile.”
The project is one of eight Canadian initiatives that will receive funding, together with several projects that will originate in developing countries.
With reporting by Wade Hemsworth, McMaster University