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Both tardigrades (aka ‘water bears’) and amber have been the source of inspiration for the production of the first ‘jellybean vaccine’. So, what is it and what benefits does it have?
Vaccines are a hot topic at the moment. But have you ever heard of a vaccine that isn’t injected by needle and syringe?
Imagine if you could suck on a lolly instead of being pricked by a needle!
Water bears and amber, the inspiration for the ‘jellybean vaccine’
Both tardigrades (aka ‘water bears’) and amber have been responsible for the production of the first ‘jellybean vaccine’.
Tardigrades are microscopic aquatic animals that have the ability to come back to life after 100 years thanks to a process that protects the animal’s DNA and RNA structures by coating them with sugar enzymes – kind of like a jellybean!
They are extremophilic organisms (i.e. resistant to extreme conditions), with characteristics unique in the animal kingdom:
- They can survive in the vacuum of space.
- They can withstand very high pressures up to almost 6000 atm2.
- They can survive temperatures as low as -200 °C and as high as 150 °C.
- They can last up to 10 years without hydration.
- They are resistant to ionising radiation.
On the other hand, amber also has the ability to preserve DNA for millions of years.
By studying these characteristics, researchers have created a new type of ‘needle-free’ vaccine that can be stored at room temperature and is simple to manufacture. It is the first vaccine that can be given orally – like a lolly – and does not require refrigeration or syringes to administer.
‘Thanks to the inspiration drawn from the study of sea bears and amber, vaccines that are eaten like lollies are now available’.
‘The commercialisation of this type of vaccine would save a lot of contaminating waste’.
A solution for the 19.5 million syringes or 143 tonnes of sharps waste
Thanks to the inspiration and insights gained from the study of water bears and amber, there is now a way to minimise the waste generated by traditional vaccines.
To give just one example, the measles elimination campaign in a country like the Philippines in 2004 managed to immunise 18 million children in one month but generated:
- 19.5 million syringes.
- 143 tonnes of sharps waste.
- Almost 80 tonnes of non-hazardous waste: empty vials, syringe wrappers, caps, cotton swabs and packaging.
The great news is that the ‘jellybean vaccine’ could be distributed with just one sachet.
The aim is that this new vaccine, taken orally, can begin to be sold on the market within two years at most.
There’s never been something a bit of sweetness couldn’t fix.
Learning from Nature
ANIMALS MAKE US
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