Cellulose nanocrystals have emerged as a new class of renewable materials for various applications due to their remarkable properties and commercialization prospects. Cellulose nanocrystals are also being explored for biomedical applications, including drug carriers and vaccine adjuvants. Vaccine adjuvants are substances or molecules that activate our immunological system, causing the vaccines to be more effective. For example, aluminum hydroxide, a particulate inorganic material, is the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant, because it has a record of safety and efficacy. However, in some types of vaccines, aluminum hydroxide is not always the most effective choice. Therefore, developing new organic nanomaterials with potential vaccine adjuvant properties will broaden the available number of systems so they can be selected to give the best results for a given vaccine. This research project involves designing, developing, and characterizing a range of cellulose nanocrystals and then determining their safety and immune responses. Additionally, this research project is impacting undergraduate student education, since they will be directly involved in original research activities. Students are being trained on experimental planning and data collection, as well as data interpretation and research presentation skills. The experiential learning provided through this research project would make SUNY-Plattsburgh students better prepared when seeking employment or graduate school opportunities following graduation.
In this project, the researchers will develop a library of modified cationic cellulose nanocrystals, by adding positively charged polymers to their surfaces. These modified cellulose nanocrystals will be characterized using spectroscopic, analytical and microscopic techniques. The toxicity and potential immunogenicity of these nanoparticles will be assessed using mammalian cells as a biological tool. The data generated form cell culture studies will provide a solid basis for future animal studies to develop further vaccine adjuvants. Also, these in vitro studies can form a foundation for evaluating the in vivo safety and biological activities of new biomedical cellulose-based nanomaterials. Undergraduate students are being thoroughly integrated into all aspects of the research, from synthesis and characterization of modified cationic cellulose nanocrystals to cell culture techniques and immunogenicity and toxicity assays, as well as gene expression, protein isolation and identification methods.