April 24 (UPI) -- Vaccines, antibodies and other types of vital medications could soon be more effectively transported to underserved populations in remote and dangerous regions thanks to researchers at the University of Bath.
Scientists at Bath have created tiny silica 'cages' capable of protecting vaccines from high temperatures. Several million vaccine doses are lost every year due to unrefrigerated breaks in the supply chain.
By coating doses in non-toxic, inert silica cages, researchers were able to prevent vaccines from breaking down in temperatures as great as 100 degrees Celsius. The silica quickly binds to the vaccine proteins, forming multiple protective layers which prevented the proteins from breaking down.
"Once the proteins in a vaccine break down and tangle up, it's useless," Asel Sartbaeva, a chemist at Bath, said in a news release. "You can think of it like an egg that's been boiled -- it can't be unboiled."
Researchers hope the buffer will make it easier and cheaper to deliver much needed medicine to hard-to-reach communities.
"The ability to store and transport proteins at room temperatures or even hotter would remove a major logistical problem for safely delivering vaccines and other medicines to patients around the world," Sartbaeva said.
Researchers also showed vaccines could be stored in powder form for up to a year with a reduction in functionality.
"We're very excited by the potential applications of ensilication and our next steps will be to test our findings on more vaccines, antibodies, antiviral and anti-venom drugs and other biopharmaceuticals," Sartbaeva said.
Researchers detailed their breakthrough in the journal Scientific Reports.