Biotech Updates

Nanoengineers Combine Molecular Farming and Advanced Manufacturing to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

April 29, 2020

Nicole Steinmetz at the Steinmetz Lab in UC San Diego. Photo Source: UC San Diego

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) are working on an unusual candidate for COVID-19 vaccine: a plant virus. Led by UC San Diego nanoengineering professors Nicole Steinmetz and Jon Pokorski, the team's goal is to use plants to create a stable, easy to manufacture vaccine that can be shipped around the globe.

Steinmetz, who is the director of the Center for NanoImmunoEngineering at UC San Diego said, "To really make an impact, we are making a vaccine that's stable at room temperature and above so it can be shipped—without refrigeration—throughout the world and be distributed to resource-poor areas." While the Steinmetz lab works on vaccine development, the Pokorski lab will work on vaccine delivery devices in the form of slow-release microneedle patches that are inexpensive and also easy to manufacture and ship worldwide.

To create the vaccine, the team is using a plant virus that infects legumes and engineering it to look like SARS-CoV-2. Molecular signatures called peptides that are specific to SARS-CoV-2 will be woven onto the surface of the plant virus so it can stimulate an immune response.

The beauty of their approach is that the plant virus is non-infectious in humans, said Steinmetz, whose lab specializes in engineering plant viruses to treat plant and human health. Also, plant viruses are easy to produce in large scales because they can be grown on plants through molecular farming. Plant viruses are extremely stable up to high temperatures too, so the team's vaccine is compatible with the methods that will be used to fabricate the microneedle patches.

For more details, read the article in the UC San Diego News Center.

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