Scientists in America say that the good bacteria found in dairy products, which is associated with positive health benefits in the body, may also prove effective vehicle for an oral vaccine against anthrax.
The suggestion has come from researchers at North Carolina State University, who believe that the approach may be useful for delivering any number of specific vaccines that could block other types of viruses and pathogens.
The researchers say that the oral vaccine riding inside the good bacteria makes its way through the stomach and into the small intestine, an important immunological organ, where it easily and efficiently binds to cells that trigger an immune response.
While experimenting on mice, they have found their approach to trigger an immune response against anthrax.
The good bacteria - Lactobacillus acidophilus, a lactic acid bacteria - are naturally found in dairy products like milk and cheese, and are added by manufacturers to foods like yogurt. They are used in food fermentationas, are safe for consumption and some are considered as probiotics that contribute to our general health and well being.
The researchers say that when the anthrax vaccine is delivered through the stomach, and released into the small intestine, using the good bacteria, it targets the first line of immune cells, dendritic cells, that can trigger the mucosal immune system to respond and elicit protection against anthrax.
In the study, the oral vaccine worked about as well as a vaccine delivered by needle, the standard way of inoculating living things from viruses and pathogens.
"Normally, you can't eat vaccines because the digestive process in the stomach destroys them, so vaccines are administered by needle. But using 'food grade' lactic acid bacteria as a vehicle provides a safe way of getting the vaccine into the small intestine without losing any of the drug's efficacy in binding to the dendritic cells, which can then trigger an immune response," says Dr. Todd Klaenhammer, a University Professor.
Describing their study in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that their findings suggested that an oral vaccine could be as effective as one given by needle, a potentially huge advance in drug delivery.
Klaenhammer and his colleagues are now trying to use lactic acid bacteria to carry varying types of oral vaccines to provide immunity to important viruses and pathogens. They are also working to improve the efficiency of binding of Lactobacillus acidophilus and the vaccine to dendritic cells.
"Can we make these generally recognized as safe lactic acid bacteria into a premier delivery system for vaccines and biotherapeutics? That's the question we're now trying to answer," Klaenhammer says.