- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Thin dissolving strips like those used in tiny breath mints could be a new way to deliver a vaccine for a deadly childhood virus.

Undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University are working with a vaccine maker to develop a system to provide a strip-based rotavirus vaccine to infants in impoverished areas.

“It’s still very early in the process, but the pieces they’ve come up with have been very encouraging,” said Vu Truong, co-founder and chief scientific officer at Aridis Pharmaceuticals, which provided a rotavirus vaccine that is stable at room temperature.

The virus is the leading cause of early childhood diarrhea. In the United States, rotavirus sickens about 2.7 million children younger than 5, sends up to 70,000 to the hospital and causes 20 to 70 deaths each year. The virus is blamed for 600,000 deaths worldwide each year, mostly in developing areas where medical services are not as available.

The Johns Hopkins undergraduate biomedical engineering students developed the thin-film system that does not require refrigeration and would be easy to store and transport. Although more work is needed to maintain the viability of the vaccine, the strip melts in the mouth and allows the vaccine to survive that passage through the acidic environment of the stomach and enter the intestine, where it is absorbed.

“The idea is that you would place one of these dissolving strips on the infant’s tongue,” said Hai-Quan Mao, the students’ faculty adviser. “Because the strips are in a solid form, they would cost much less to store and transport than the liquid vaccine. We wanted this to be as simple and as inexpensive as possible.”

Mr. Truong said San Jose, Calif.-based Aridis is in talks to fund more research by Mr. Mao’s lab, and animal testing could begin later this year. The Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer staff has also applied for a provisional patent, and the thin film vaccine system was among the undergraduate projects introduced to the public this month at the university’s annual Biomedical Engineering Design Day showcase.

After Mr. Truong approached Mr. Mao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering, the professor described the problem to senior Christopher Yu, an undergraduate lab assistant who became co-leader of the student team.

The students overcame several obstacles, including developing a room-temperature production and drying process as opposed to the high-temperature method used to make breath fresheners, which would have destroyed the vaccine. They also developed a coating for the vaccine that would protect it from acid in the stomach, but allow it to dissolve in the intestine.

“This was a really good experience,” said Mr. Yu, the student co-team leader. “When you run into problems in a project like this, you have to think hard about how to solve them or work around them. It’s much more rewarding than a basic textbook problem.”

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