On the battle against infectious disease, vaccines are our best weapon in preventing illness, disability and death. Using our body’s own immune system, vaccines train your cells natural defenses to gear up and fight. It is a time-tested way to protect ourselves from the constant onslaught of viruses. However, scientists are working on an even safer, more effect way to vaccinate; with DNA itself.
Once a conventional vaccine enters the blood stream, it resembles a real infection. Only this minuscule virus is not able to fight back and acts as a sort of war game for your macrophages who swallow the enemy and along with the lymph nodes, create antigens for the T and B cells. Virus-specific T-cells attack that matching virus cells and B cells give off antibodies of the virus. The fake virus leaves the body without further incident and the host, now armed with memory T and B cells that keep the virus from infecting when exposed anytime in the future.
There have been several types of vaccines using live or killed viruses but DNA vaccines promise a safer, cheaper way of protection. Removing a single strand (RNA) of genetic information from a live virus, making the virus dead is the first step in creating DNA vaccines. Next, the strand is converted to a double strand (DNA) and encoded with an antigen for the cells of the host.
Benefits of DNA Vaccines
There are many benefits to DNA vaccines. A person all at once injected with DNA that genetically encodes antigens affiliated with the virus, the person makes antigens themselves. This means that unlike previous vaccines that activate just the antibody reaction, the DNA vaccines activate both the antibody and cell-mediated reaction. DNA vaccines are easier to create and keep than past vaccines and cost less to make.
They are safer, too. early studies indicate that DNA vaccines lack the side effects that can accompany traditional vaccines. Another bonus with the DNA vaccine is a needle free delivery method. DNA uses a “gene gun” to enter cells. Gene guns use compressed gas to blast minuscule gold fragments covered with DNA right into cells. (One can always use the old-fashioned needle method but I have a feeling that kids might prefer the new age Star Trek inoculation.) These “naked DNA vaccines” are currently in human trials for influenza and herpes vaccines; it is only a matter of time before they become commonplace.
Old-fashioned vaccinations are made with chicken eggs; this can trigger allergic reaction in some people. With DNA, there is no danger.
The Future of DNA Vaccines
The future in DNA vaccines is not only in infection diseases but researchers are looking into DNA vaccines for preventing cancers and autoimmune diseases.
The conventional vaccine will likely be with us for a long time yet, but DNA vaccines offer a hopeful glimpse into a world of safer, pain free, and more effective inoculations.