The global COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been described as one of the largest public health initiatives ever managed. Quick distribution of the vaccines has been essential, but a vaccine’s journey is fraught with complications that include susceptibility to heat and light exposure, breakage, and extreme fragility in temperature changes. The Pfizer shot, for example, requires ultracold temperatures during shipping and storage. This is known as the cold chain and accounts for upwards of 80% of the total cost of vaccines.

At The University of Texas at Dallas the lab teams of Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith and Dr. Gabriele Meloni are working together to discover alternatives to this cold chain while still preserving the integrity of the therapeutics.

A flyer has been created on this subject.

Dr. Jeremiah Gassensmith

The teams turned to Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) for a solution. MOFs are coordination polymers with tunable properties. Their investigations resulted in an experimental design that could potentially alleviate the need for COVID-19 vaccines to be refrigerated at extremely low temperatures in order to guarantee their functionality.

Dr. Gabriele Meloni

Their research led to the development of a methodology to stabilize lipid bilayer vesicles and proteoliposomes assemblies in crystalline exoskeletons, called ZIF-8. The crystalline exoskeleton’s stability guarantees that the encapsulated lipid-based nanoparticle systems are protected and become resilient to both aging, mechanical, and chemical stressors. Upon exfoliation of the crystalline shell, building blocks can be easily disassembled and removed providing lipid/protein assemblies that are structurally and functionally identical to the original one.

They are expanding their research by attempting stabilization of lipid-based nanoparticles currently used in COVID-19 clinical trials.

We envision that stabilization of protein-lipid bilayer assemblies via this immobilization strategy might overcome the challenges of “cold-chain” distribution of these unstable systems including liposomal vaccines developed the fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Gabriele Meloni

By working together, the Gassensmith and Meloni teams developed an affordable, scalable, and safe method for the enhancement of thermal and mechanical stability of liposomes and proteoliposomes. This method would allow researchers to share delicate research samples across the world.

This methodology is currently being investigated to enhance lipid-based nanoparticles (e.g., cancer drugs and potentially the COVID-19 vaccines).

For more information, tune in to our Research 411 talk show on Wednesday, June 23rd from 3-4 PM to hear more on this fascinating topic.