01/10/2014 03:58 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Did you Get a Flu Shot this Year?

Thanks to ingenuity, the vaccinations of the future will be more efficient, safer and much more accessible to those who need them most.

Did you get a flu shot this year?

I did. I am one of the thousands of Albertans who opted for a quick jab, hoping that I would be protected from the nasty strains of influenza out there.

Now I know that vaccination is a choice and there are people who choose to abstain. I myself am a firm believer in the practice that started in the eighteenth century and continues to be the most effective method of preventing communicable diseases today.

It's important. It's how we can stimulate our immune system, protect the body from infection and protect those around us.

I've been immunized multiple times in my life. I've signed the waiver, watched the health professional draw up the vaccine and felt the pinch of the injection. That is probably your experience too.

But things are changing.

This year, my four-year-old grandchild's flu vaccine was delivered in a nasal mist. No needle - just a quick shot up the nose - thanks to advances in modern medicine.

These discoveries are altering the delivery of vaccines around the world. And at Ingenuity Lab, we are hoping to build on this momentum as we explore oral influenza vaccine delivery.

Using a nanotechnology-based vaccine characterization technique, we've been observing time-dependent morphological change of the oral flu vaccine under various gastric environments.

This is important because an enhanced mechanistic understanding of the effects of the physicochemical gastric environment on vaccine stability is what will ultimately make or break these vaccines. In fact, instability of antigens in the stomach and concerns about reduced drug efficacy are some of the main reasons oral influenza vaccines have not yet made it to market.

Knowing these challenges, we've been able to hone in on innovative solutions. Our work, which has been supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has uncovered that the presence of hyper-osmotic stress in acidic medium has a significant destabilizing effect on the stability of the whole virion inactivated (WIV) vaccine.

We've also found that low pH-induced denaturation of antigenic proteins and particle aggregation play a critical role in the initial rapid vaccine activity loss, and irreversible membrane deformation of vaccine particles' wall causes additional activity decrease during further incubation under hyper-osmotic conditions. This means that while a maximum level of stability can be maintained at both hypo- and iso-osmotic gastric conditions, hyper-osmotic conditions are not conducive to optimal vaccine activity.

If I've lost you in the science, just remember these two things:

  • Future vaccines will likely need to be taken on an empty stomach.
  • A new vaccine formula will also do the trick, provided that it protects against hyper-osmotic pressure as well as low pH in the gastric environment.

At Ingenuity Lab, we are engineering better formulas along with pH sensitive micro-particles that will shield oral influenza vaccine in the acidic gastric environment.

This combination will mean increased vaccine efficacy, a dose-sparing effect and cost reduction. Plus this nanotechnology work will open the door to a myriad of new vaccine possibilities, breaking down traditional immunization barriers by providing alternatives to conventional and resource intensive injectable vaccines that require sterile medical equipment, careful administration by health professionals and rigorous cold chain management - the process designed to keep vaccines at their optimal temperature so their effectiveness is not compromised.

Thanks to ingenuity, the vaccinations of the future will be more efficient, safer and much more accessible to those who need them most. Our innovative oral vaccines will be a revolutionary health breakthrough for populations around the globe and I have no doubt that these discoveries truly will be life changing.