A solution to the world’s Covid-19 transport problem: shrink-wrap in sand.

21 January 2021 By Paul Martin

Dr Asel Sartbaeva, who came to England from the newly independent Ccentral Asian state of Kyrgyzstan twenty years ago to take up a schol;arship to Cambridge University, had her Eureka moment when she took her infant daughter Melinda to be vaccinated ten years ago.

They told her the vaccine had to be kept in a fridge otherwise it would be spoiled. She began to think of another way to keep vaccines fresh — without a fridge.

Eventually she found a way — using one of the most common substances on the planet: sand. Or rather silica, which is easy to extract from sand. Her new method of thermal stabilisation is called ensilication.

Dr Sartbaeva told Corresponent.world why the technique would work so well for the current vaccines being rolled out against Covid-19.:

“We want to make important medicines stable so they can be more widely available,” she said. “The aim is to eradicate not just Covid-19 but most vaccine-preventable disease and that can best be done in low income countries by using thermally stable vaccines and cutting out dependence on a cold chain.”

Currently, up to 50% of vaccine doses, such as DTP, MMR, BCG and other children vaccines  are discarded before use because they have been exposed to suboptimal temperatures. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 19.4 million infants did not receive routine life-saving vaccinations in 2018.

Profile photo of Asel Sartbaeva

“We want to make important medicines stable so they can be more widely available,” she said. “The aim is to eradicate not just Covid-19 but most vaccine-preventable disease and that can best be done in low income countries by using thermally stable vaccines and cutting out dependence on cold chain.”

Currently, up to 50% of vaccine doses are discarded before use because they have been exposed to suboptimal temperatures. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 19.4 million infants did not receive routine life-saving vaccinations in 2018.

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The method, ensilication, “shrink-wraps” vaccine components using layers of silica that build up into a cage around the molecules – so the molecules (proteins, viruses, enzymes) do not unravel when exposed to temperatures that would usually break them down.

The proteins are held safely in place until ready to be removed from the silica cage and delivered.

“We have shown that by encasing some proteins in a silica shell, the structure remains intact even when some are heated to 100°C or stored at room temperature for up to three years,” said Dr. Sartbaeva.

The technique for tailor-fitting a vaccine with a silica coat was seen to work in the lab two years ago, and now it has demonstrated its effectiveness in the real world too.

In their latest study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers sent samples of the tetanus vaccine from Bath to Newcastle by ordinary post, without refrigeration or cold box  (a journey of over 300 miles, which by post takes a day or two).

When doses of the tetanus vaccine that were silica-coated before and released from silica, were subsequently injected into mice, an immune response was triggered, showing the vaccine was active. No immune response was detected in mice injected with unprotected doses of the vaccine, indicating the medicine had been damaged in transit.

Dr Sartbaeva, who led the project from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemistry, said: “This is really exciting data because it shows us that ensilication preserves not just the structure of the vaccine proteins but also the function – the immunogenicity.”

“This project first focused on tetanus, which is part of the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine given to young children in three doses. Next, we worked on developing a thermally-stable vaccine for diphtheria. Eventually we want every child in the world to be given DTP without having to rely on cold chain distribution.”

Cold chain distribution requires a vaccine to be refrigerated from the moment of manufacturing to the endpoint destination.

Silica is an inorganic, non-toxic material.

“It would almost certainly do no harm to have the silica particles injected, but in any case we can supply a material that strips the silica off the molecules and then we only inject the original vaccine, mixed up as we do it now,” Dr Sartbaeva told Correspondent.World.

SUMMARY:

Let’s shrink-wrap each protein of the vaccine — and forget about fridges.
A scientist based in a UK university, who came to Britain from central Asia on a scholarship to Cambridge University, got the idea when her little daughter got her baby jabs, but the medic said the jabs had to be kept in a fridge.  Why not find a way to keep the liquid fresh and useful without any refrigeration?  

She’d been working on this for years at Oxford and then Bath, before the current Covid pandemic …. once Pfizer said it needs to keep its millions of jabs frozen at minus eighty, and the Oxford jab will need two to five degrees Centigrade, she is ready to come out with her prize-winning formula – originally tested to work for vaccines against tetanus and diphtheria — to work for Covid vaccine.

It uses sand – or to be precise silica, which is an oxide of silicon, SiO2.  It’s very easy to grind up into a powder and it  wraps around each vaccine component — so stopping the vaccine molecules from unfolding and aggregation when they get warmer outside a fridge.

It could take a year to prove it works — but then it would mean all those needing a second jab would get them safely and all around the country and the world.  And we would be able to send the vaccines all over the world — so we don’t get people flying in from unvaccinated countries and bringing us new and potentially deadly variants of the virus — like what happened with the South African and the Brazilian variants…

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