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Silica cages to protect vaccines from high temperatures
May 10, 2017, 5:38 pm
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A new discovery that vaccines and antibodies could be transported and stored without refrigeration by capturing them in tiny silica 'cages' could make getting vital medicines to remote or to places lacking infrastructure much easier, cheaper and safer.

Vaccines and many other medicines contain proteins which break down and become unusable at room temperatures. This means that they need to be refrigerated during storage and transportation in a so-called ‘cold chain’. In many parts of the developing world, breaks in the ‘cold chain’ could lead to the loss of millions of doses of vaccines each year, resulting in a serious public health issue, especially when it comes to mass childhood vaccination programs.

But scientists at Bath University in the UK have now created a technique that can keep the proteins intact in high temperatures of even 100°C, by encasing them in silica cages. Silica, which is the main constituent of ordinary sand, is a non-toxic and inert element. Once the protein has been encased in silica it can be stored or transported without refrigeration. At the right time, the silica coat can be removed chemically, leaving the proteins unaffected.

Scientists behind the technique, who call their method ensilication, hope it will solve the costly and often impractical need for a cold chain to protect protein-based products including vaccines, antibodies and enzymes. "We have demonstrated with ensilication that we can simply and reliably keep proteins from breaking down even at up to 100°C, or store them as a powder for up to three years at room temperature without loss of function,” said the research team. 

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