Fighting Infectious Disease

MIT engineers have developed a customizable vaccine that can be manufactured in one week to respond to outbreaks of Ebola, malaria—even the Zika virus.


I know this is “Beyond the Factory Walls,” which means we are highlighting interesting uses of manufacturing technology used outside of manufacturing, but this is one life sciences innovation I just had to share.

Engineers at MIT have invented a programmable vaccine that can be manufactured in one week to respond to outbreaks of some of the most daunting infectious diseases, including Ebola, H1N1 influenza, malaria, Zika and Lyme. In addition, the team is working on creating cancer vaccines that would teach the immune system to identify and destroy tumors.

According to a report in, “the vaccine consists of strands of genetic material known as messenger RNA, which can be designed to code for any viral, bacterial, or parasitic protein. These molecules are then packaged into a molecule that delivers the RNA into cells, where it is translated into proteins that provoke an immune response from the host.”

According to Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), who is quoted in the article: "This nanoformulation approach allows us to make vaccines against new diseases in only seven days, allowing the potential to deal with sudden outbreaks or make rapid modifications and improvements.”

The article goes into much greater detail about how messenger RNA molecules work, but what you need to know is that in tests with mice, the animals that received a single dose of one of the vaccines showed no symptoms following exposure to the real pathogen, whether Ebola, H1N1 influenza, or Toxoplasma gondii (a relative of the parasite that causes malaria).

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