Breakthrough silk compound could lead to longer-lasting antibiotics and vaccines

One of the major hurdles of getting a number of drugs into the developing world is that they need to be kept chilled to remain effective. A breakthrough technique using silk proteins has found a way around the need to keep cold, and could mean drugs that stay usable at high temperature for months — if not years — at a time.

The researchers from Tufts University used silk fibroin film, a protein polymer refined from domesticated silkworms. Processed in a liquid form and when mixed with the antibiotics and vaccines, it formed protective little nanoscale pockets for the drugs, safe from the ravages of both heat and light. The team was able to preserve the MMR vaccine, penicillin, and tetracycline at 113°F/45°c for up to six months, and still have them be effective, and some drugs were even successfully stored at up to 130°F/60°C.

It's estimated that half of global vaccines are lost due to refrigeration requirements, and the so-called "cold chain" accounts for 80% of the costs of vaccination. With this research, three major medications — and potentially many more — could be delivered anywhere in the world without the need for so much as a beer cooler to keep them cold.

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