Check Your Health: Freeze drying reagents for vaccines

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Freeze drying reagents for vaccines (Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo)

I'm saving a couple pictures from the press release in todays common share folder for the webteam. Look under 'cyh byu freeze dried research'

(KUTV) When you think of freeze drying supplies, you might think of freeze dried food for camping trips.

But thanks to new research out of Brigham Young University, scientists can now freeze dry and stockpile the reagents needed to make vaccines.

Researchers this method eliminates the weeks it can take to make, and have it ready to go if there's an outbreak or last minute need for that type of medicine.

"We thought, you can freeze dry food if you go backpacking, you want to take food with you, you can just add water and it's ready to go," said Dr. Brad Bundy, associate chemical engineering professor at BYU.

Bundy was talking to his students in class one day, when they wondered whether it would be possible to freeze dry the reagents for a vaccine.

"We just went downstairs to the unit operations lab and they had a freeze dryer, and we just tried it out," Dr. Bundy explained.

The concept involves creating the biological machinery for vaccine production and putting it in a freeze dried state, so if there's an immediate need for that medication, labs can simply add water to rapidly produce vaccines.

Dr. Bundy teamed up with Dr. William Pitt to test out the idea on cancer therapeutics.

"We tested it against cancer cells in our lab and it worked," Dr. Pitt explained. "Add water to it, swirl it around, we applied it to the cancer cells and it killed the cancer cells. The protein was still working really well after it was dried for a really long time."

The research, which was published in 'Biotechnology' Journal, is still in the early stages, but researchers say the possibilities are endless.

"We have the agents all stockpiled ready to go, before we even know there's a threat," Dr. Bundy said.

Not just for stockpiling the reagents for vaccines, but also the reagents to produce specialized medication for people who don't have access to refrigerated labs.

"In third world nations, they don't have nice labs and nice storage conditions and nice vaccines on the shelves," Dr. Pitt said. "You could make these and ship these to these countries and you don't have to worry about the storage conditions."

Dr. Bundy says it's not ready for commercialization yet, but the research opens a lot of doors.

"What we're really excited about is the possibility," he said.