December 08, 2009.
No Need for Needles: Spoon-Fed Vaccines to Be Tested in Australia.
HUMAN trials are soon to begin on an Australian-pioneered technique that could revolutionise the way we vaccinate - by replacing the syringe with the spoon.
Dr Barry Marshall, the Australian scientist who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers, is working on a way to use those same bugs (Helicobacter pylori) to create edible vaccines.
It promises to make having your annual flu shot as painless as downing a spoonful of yoghurt.
But first, Dr Marshall must side-step a basic principal of the human body - that the immune system does not normally react to food.
"Previously, people have looked at delivering vaccines on lactobacillus in yoghurts, for example, but most of these products just look food to the immune system and they are ignored," Dr Marshall said.
"The new idea (is to use) the helicobacter, which infects your stomach temporarily.
"In the few days that it is sitting there it could be producing the vaccine, liberating it in the wall of your stomach where it is sensed by the immune system."
The trial, taking in 36 healthy Perth-based volunteers, will begin in January. It will aim to find out which of a range of different strains of the unique bacteria, now known to be widespread and mostly harmless, had the most benign effect on gut.
"Half the people of the world are infected with it and most of them have no symptoms ... so that gives us a bit of confidence about the safety," Dr Marshall said.
"We know exactly what happens when you get helicobacter - mostly nothing and sometimes an ulcer."
The initial trial will take about a year. Meanwhile Dr Marshall will seek regulatory approval to make a modified version of the bug to attach an extra vaccine particle to its genetic make-up.
If this all comes together, Dr Marshall and fellow scientists attached to his biotech company Ondek will have created a new way to deliver a vaccine to the body through the wall of the stomach.
"Hopefully we can make something so benign and safe and easy to produce that we will replace many of the vaccines that require injection," Dr Marshall said.
"You would take it as a couple of tablets over three or four days or it might be in a six-pack of mini-yoghurts ... so you could potentially sell your flu vaccine through supermarkets."
The process could also revolutionise the way vaccines are made, as a bacteria with an attached vaccine could reproduce itself.
The technique could also hold the key to developing effective vaccines for the world's major diseases which have so far resisted decades of scientific effort.
"Nobody has succeeded with malaria, TB, HIV or hepatitis C at the moment and by having helicobacter delivering (a targeted vaccine) over many months then we may be able to get there," Dr Marshall said.
Dr Marshall was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with his research partner Dr Robin Warren.