Skin’s role in improving vaccination under the microscope

15 Jul 2013

Biomedical engineer Professor Mark Kendall is pioneering a new area of vaccine delivery research, investigating how to enhance immune response by triggering naturally occurring mechanisms in the skin.

The work will be conducted at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), based at The University of Queensland, supported by almost $600,000 from an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.

Prof Kendall’s AIBN research group will collaborate with Professor Ian Frazer and partner company Vaxxas on the project, with a combined three-year budget of more than $1 million and input from immunologists, dermatologists, engineers and vaccinologists.

It builds on Prof Kendall’s work on the Nanopatch, a device being developed to deliver dry-coated vaccine into the skin.

The Nanopatch has achieved protective immune responses in animal models with doses 100 times smaller than required for a needle and syringe.

“Many vaccines contain chemicals called adjuvants, used to enhance the immune response in patients,” Prof Kendall said.

“Our aim is to reduce or remove the chemical adjuvant and instead encourage the body to enhance its own immune response through physical interaction between the Nanopatch, the vaccine and the skin.

“That way, the vaccine may be more easily tolerated.”

Prof Kendall said applying pressure to the skin’s outer layers, which are abundant with the body’s immune cells, should activate the body’s own defenses and ensure improved vaccine efficacy.

He said the research would start with understanding the physical properties of the skin and how it reacted to physical interactions, before testing suitable existing vaccines.

“It is very exciting to be heading down this path. It is a new field of research in immunology and could open a new field of improved vaccines.”

Prof Kendall is the Vaxxas co-founder, director and chief technology officer and, in addition to his AIBN position, also has appointments at UQ’s Diamantina Institute and Faculty of Health Sciences.