A thin strip that dissolves in the mouth like a popular breath-freshener could someday provide life-saving rotavirus vaccine to infants in impoverished areas. The innovative drug-delivery system was developed by Johns Hopkins undergraduate biomedical engineering students.
During a two-semester course, the seven-student team fabricated a thin film that should melt quickly in a babys mouth, prompting the child to swallow the vaccine. The dissolved medication is coated with a material to protect it in the childs stomach. This coating is also designed to release the vaccine in the small intestine, where it should trigger an immune response to prevent a rotavirus infection.
The novel drug-delivery system is needed because rotavirus is a common cause of severe diarrhea and vomiting in children, leading to about 600,000 deaths annually. Most of these occur in developing nations, where medical services to treat intestinal distress are not widely available. Rotavirus vaccine to prevent this illness is currently produced in a liquid or freeze-dried form that must be chilled for transport and storage, making it very expensive for use in impoverished areas. In addition, newborns sometimes spit out the liquid, a problem that is less likely to occur with a strip that sticks to and dissolves on the tongue in less than a minute.
To address the drawbacks of the liquid vaccine, the Johns Hopkins students developed a thin film delivery system that would be easy to store and transport and would not require refrigeration. Although further refinement is needed to maintain the viability of the vaccine, the delivery system itself appears sound, and the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer staff has applied for a provisional patent. The thin film vaccine system was among the undergraduate projects introduced to the public this month at the universitys annual Biomedical Engineering Design Day showcase.