This Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant supports research that contributes to the scalable manufacturing and nanotechnology of a novel coronavirus vaccine delivery system with funding from the Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation Division in the Directorate for Engineering and from the Biomaterials Program in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. There are no known effective therapeutics to combat the coronavirus (COVID19) disease and the vaccines in development face manufacturing challenges for scale and stability. This research brings an advanced nanomanufacturing approach to vaccine development by coupling expertise in polymer fabrication with biomedical engineering. The plant virus offers a unique biomaterial for vaccine discovery because it can be easily engineered to mimic coronavirus without being infectious and it is highly stable under various environmental conditions. The innovation in this technology is that these vaccine candidates can be manufactured using established polymer-processing technologies, such as injection molding, into self-administered vaccine patches for durable protective response. These scalable processing technologies can impact vaccine distribution on a massive scale, since they can be used to fabricate vaccine/polymer patches rapidly at low cost. The research is multi-disciplinary and involves polymer science, bioengineering, and plant molecular farming. Students conducting this research are trained in an interdisciplinary environment, putting them at the forefront of innovation to help position the nation as a technological leader. The PIs are committed to education and outreach through engaging underrepresented high school student in research and through dissemination of results via public lectures and demonstrations.
Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) is used as a nanotechnology scaffold to present epitopes (antigenic peptides) of the novel coronavirus to generate vaccine candidates. The nanoscale virus-like particle is highly visible to the immune system and serves as an epitope presentation technology and adjuvant (to boost the immune response). This research develops vaccine cocktails to provide the most protective shield against the virus. CPMV is especially suited for advanced manufacturing technologies. CPMV is produced through molecular farming in plants. The plant virus-based vaccine candidates are stable under the polymer processing temperature conditions required for delivery device manufacturing. The plug-and-play technology can be quickly changed as public health needs evolve. For example, if mutants or novel strains emerge the platform is adaptable in that the epitopes can be easily replaced. The CPMV vaccine candidates are blended into slowly degradable polymers and injection molded into microneedle patches. Injection molding is a scalable method to manufacture polymeric devices at low cost. The polymers are chosen for slow release of the vaccine candidate over the course of months, providing protection over the course of the pandemic. The slow release of the vaccine provides boosts to the immune system, which is effective after a single administration. Once realized, these patches can be shipped outside of the cold-chain and show efficacy when self-applied.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.