03/04/2019 / By Vicki Batts
Are needle-free vaccines on the horizon? It certainly seems that could just be the case. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have revealed their latest innovation that could very well propel us toward a dismal future where vaccines administer themselves.
The proof-of-concept study from the UC Berkeley team unveiled a pill-sized apparatus that would “jet-release a stream of vaccine inside the mouth” of whoever is so inclined to receive it. The study did not test the vaccine delivery system on people, but it was tested on animals — just in case you needed another reason to be less than enthused over the concept.
The new technology, which is called “Mucojet,” is reportedly capable of delivering “vaccine-sized” molecules to immune cells in the mouths of the aforementioned animals. The intention is for the device to be used to capitalize on the notable presence of immune cells within the buccal region — which is commonly referred to as the cheeks.
This area has not been a primary focus in immunology due to the fact that there is thick mucosal layer inside the mouth that is difficult to penetrate efficiently. Of course, this so-called difficulty is merely a product of design: one of the key purposes of mucous membranes is to protect the body from pathogens trying to enter it.
The Mucojet utilizes jet-stream technology, likened to that of a dentist’s water pick, to target the inner cheek region. The goal is for the high-pressured stream of liquid and “immune system-triggering molecules” to blast through the protective mucosal layer and stimulate an immune system response in the buccal region.
The device is described as a 15-by-7 millimeter (mL) capsule comprised of two compartments. The exterior compartment holds 250 mL of water. The interior compartment features two sections that are separated by a porous barrier: one containing 100 mL of “vaccine solution” and another holding a dry solution of sodium bicarbonate and citric acid. Once activated, the fizz from the baking soda and citric acid sets the process of jet-streaming of vaccine fluid into the mouth in motion.
The Mucojet is not without criticism. Jiri Mestecky, a mucosal immunologist based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says that while the device looks attractive, it may not be very useful. According to Mestecky, humans have substantially fewer immune cells in their cheeks, and that the cheek tissue in rabbits (which were used in UC’s testing) and humans could be drastically different.
It is not specified if these vaccines will also contain the same toxic compounds and harmful adjuvants, such as aluminum, that are featured in current injectable vaccines. But based on their use of the term “immune system-triggering molecules,” it is certainly questionable. Furthermore, what kind of long-term consequences might there be if these oral immunizations became the norm? One can not expect to continually disrupt the mucosal membrane and not expect there to be some form of consequence, as there are with conventional vaccines. Will these new oral vaccines be any safer? It seems doubtful.
The researchers say that based on the data, the efficacy of their new development is equivalent or greater than current injectable vaccines — and that they hope to get Mucojet on the market within the next five to ten years. They even want to create a version of the Mucojet that can be swallowed so the vaccines can be released internally.
Surely that will be something to look forward to; if all the proposed mandatory vaccine bills we’ve seen launched recently come to pass, we could be living the vaccine edition of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World within the next decade or two. The only catch would be that instead of making you feel better, the pills would make you feel worse.