Scientists at Duke University Medical Center have created synthetic tiny particles, called nanoparticles, that target lymph nodes and significantly boost vaccine responses.

Published in the online journal Nature Materials and lead by Duke Medical School researcher Ashley St. John, the study was based on the idea that mast-cells found under the skin that fight infection, also communicate directly to the lymph nodes by releasing nanoparticles called granules.

“Our strategy is unique because we have based our bio-engineered particles on those naturally produced by mast cells, which effectively solve the same problem we are trying to solve of combating infection,” said St. John.

Researchers at Duke have created a vaccine consisting of nanoparticles that are able to move from the point of injection directly to the lymph nodes, where they affect various cell types in the immune system, causing proper reaction and a far better immune response.

The research team found that they could use this experiment with mice that were injected with the influenza A virus.

Although the mice were given levels of the flu virus that would normally be fatal, it was confirmed that they were able to fight off the virus and had more of an overall survival rate, due to the immune systems response to the man-made nanoparticles.

St. John explained that the different options of synthetic particles and their ability to focus in on specific lymph nodes create new ways of medical and vaccine treatment.

Fellow author of the study, Dr. Soman Abraham, professor at Duke in Durham, North Carolina, believes that using mast-cell particle treatment could possibly make its way to human medical care.

“It should not be long because all the individual cytokines (immune system factors) and additional materials loaded into these particles are already FDA approved for use in humans,” Abraham said.

“There is a lot of interest in nanoparticle-based therapy, but we are basing our materials on our observation of mast cells in nature. This is an informed application to deliver the right material to the right place in the body to get the most effective immune reaction,” he noted.

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