Vaccines now don’t need to be refrigerated. Anew research has developed a new silk-based stabiliser that kept some vaccines and antibiotics stable up to temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius. The breakthrough could free vaccines and antibiotics from the necessity of refrigeration (cold chain), potentially saving billions of dollars every year and increasing accessibility to third world populations.
Vaccines and antibiotics often need to be refrigerated to prevent alteration of their chemical structures, which can lower the potency of drugs and medicines. The need for a cold chain has been a difficulty for health care providers, aid organisations, scientists and pharmaceutical companies for decades, especially in settings where electricity is limited. Failures in the chain result in the loss of nearly half of all global vaccines, according to researchers. Keeping medications cold from production until they are used in treatment is a costly process, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the price of vaccinations.
In an attempt to solve this problem, Kaplan and his lab have been working extensively with silk films that essentially wrap up the live bioactive molecules present in antibiotics and vaccines. This protects these essential bioactive elements, and so can greatly extend the shelf life of the medication. Silk is used because it is a protein polymer with a chemistry, structure, and assembly that can generate a unique environment, making it an attractive candidate for the stabilisation of bioactive molecules over extended periods of time. “We have already begun trying to broaden the impact of what we’re doing to apply to all vaccines. This could potentially eliminate the need for a cold chain system, greatly decreasing costs and enabling more widespread availability of these life-saving drugs,” says Kaplan.