A new way to deliver vaccines to the elderly without inflammation

Chemist Meredith Jackrel and biomedical engineer Jai Rudra will test amyloid-like peptide nanofibers as materials to develop new vaccines that do not require adjuvants.

The SARS-CoV2 pandemic has emphasized the importance of vaccines, particularly for the elderly, who have been disproportionally impacted by the virus. However, a decline in immune response as well as inflammation often accompanies aging, causing elderly populations to require an immune booster to improve immune response. Adjuvants are ingredients used in some vaccines to help boost immune response, but they can decresase vaccine efficacy.

Meredith Jackrel, assistant professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences, and Jai Rudra, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering, both at Washington University in St. Louis, will collaborate to develop and test a novel nanofiber material to eliminate the use of adjuvants in vaccines. Their work is supported by a two-year, $433,125 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The award funds high-risk, exploratory research for the early and conceptual stages of developing a project.

Rudra proposes to test amyloid-like peptide nanofibers as materials to develop novel vaccines that do not require adjuvants. These peptide nanofibers do not require added adjuvants and are expected to trigger the autophagy pathway, a kind of cellular recycling that can also promote good immunological functions, which has emerged as a potential vaccine target. Using these peptide nanofibers leads to strong antibody responses without local reactions, making them attractive to deliver vaccines to the elderly. However, because of their similarity to amyloids that accumulate in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, it is essential that the researchers thoroughly test the safety and clearance mechanism of the peptide nanofiber vaccines.

Jackrel’s lab focuses on developing model systems to study the toxicity and mechanism of disease-associated amyloid proteins. The two labs have already worked together to confirm that these peptide nanofibers are not toxic and have made some new insights into their mechanism of clearance. With early work near completion, Rudra’s lab has begun work in animal systems. Once toxicity testing is completed, work will begin on testing conjugates to various vaccine targets, notably those that underpin SARS CoV-2.

Read more about how the Jackrel lab's expertise in protein misfolding and neurodegenerative diseases has made them uniquely qualified to work on developing new, amyloid-inspired vaccine technologies aimed at elderly populations.

This story was originally published by the McKelvey School of Engineering