Inspired by dissolvable breath mint strips, undergraduate students at John Hopkins in collaboration with Aridis Pharmaceuticals have developed a new delivery system for the rotavirus vaccine in developing nations.
During a two-semester course, the seven-student team fabricated a thin film that should melt quickly in a baby’s mouth, prompting the child to swallow the vaccine. The dissolved medication is coated with a material to protect it in the child’s stomach. This coating is also designed to release the vaccine in the small intestine, where it should trigger an immune response to prevent a rotavirus infection.
The novel drug-delivery system is needed because rotavirus is a common cause of severe diarrhea and vomiting in children, leading to about 600,000 deaths annually. Most of these occur in developing nations, where medical services to treat intestinal distress are not widely available. Rotavirus vaccine to prevent this illness is currently produced in a liquid or freeze-dried form that must be chilled for transport and storage, making it very expensive for use in impoverished areas. In addition, newborns sometimes spit out the liquid, a problem that is less likely to occur with a strip that sticks to and dissolves on the tongue in less than a minute.
To address the drawbacks of the liquid vaccine, the Johns Hopkins students developed a thin film delivery system that would be easy to store and transport and would not require refrigeration. Although further refinement is needed to maintain the viability of the vaccine, the delivery system itself appears sound, and the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer staff has applied for a provisional patent. 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.
“The idea is that you would place one of these dissolving strips on the infant’s tongue,” said Hai-Quan Mao, the team’s Johns Hopkins faculty advisor. “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.”