Viruses are perhaps the most difficult variety of disease to treat, mainly because of the way they attack human cells. Viruses are not technically alive, because they lack many of the hallmarks of life, like self-replication and growth. A virus is basically no more than a piece of genetic material locked inside a protein case. Viruses replicate by infecting host cells and transforming them into factories for new units of the virus. They do so by injecting their genetic material into the host cell, where it becomes integrated with the host DNA. The result is that viruses essentially hijack an existing cellular system in order to force the cell to produce more of them.
Vaccines & Viruses
The most efficient method for combating a virus is actually to train your body to fight it on its own. The body’s natural immune system has the ability to destroy viruses, but it must be taught what to look for when dealing with outside invaders. That is where vaccines come into play. A typical vaccine includes a portion of inactive viral material, which forces the body to produce antibodies that combat those materials. The vaccine, in effect, gives you a small enough dosage of the disease so your body can learn how to kill it. That way, when an active version of the virus enters your system, your body will already be prepared to deal with it.
A New Programmable Vaccine Design
The revolutionary vaccine from MIT is a new form of forced immunity through a targeted distribution of viral genetic material to a cell. The result is that the cells aren’t taught to produce antibodies to defeat inactive material, but rather they are trained to deal with real-world proteins included in the new vaccine. Just about any protein from a virus can be encoded into a piece of mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, which is then delivered to the cells of the body via a specially designed molecule. Those encoded proteins then stimulate the immune system in a much more direct way than through outdated methods of vaccine production.
The research group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has reported this new vaccination method has proven 100% successful when used in mice. So far, the team has specifically targeted Ebola, H1N1 (swine flu), and several different strains of the common flu. The vaccine is not only groundbreaking for its technique, but it also only takes a fraction of the time to create a new vaccine with this method. It used to take months or even years to produce a single viable vaccine, but this method can be used to create a new vaccine in only seven days. That is why it is considered a programmable vaccine. The method uses a basic template that only requires the addition of a small protein from the disease in question.
Some researchers believe this new vaccination method may be adapted to fight against cancer cells. If a specific protein can be found that exists only on cancers cells, of which scientists believe there are many, then those proteins could be used as targeting systems to allow the human immune system to target cancer cells on its own. This could revolutionize how cancer is classified and treated on a molecular level.
Other highly dangerous diseases are thought to be subject to this method as well, including Zika and Lyme disease. With the right engineering, this vaccination method could be used to treat nearly anything to which the body has a natural immune response that can be trained and strengthened.
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