March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Imagine how much nicer it would be to get vaccinated by drinking a yogurt smoothie instead of being poked by a needle.
That might someday be the case, thanks to Northwestern University researchers who developed a new oral vaccine using probiotics, which are healthy bacteria found in dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
In a preclinical study, they found that this approach created immunity to anthrax exposure. The researchers, from the Feinberg School of Medicine, are also trying to develop probiotic-based vaccines for breast cancer and a range of infectious diseases.
The method has more than the obvious no-pain advantage over needles. Delivering the vaccine directly to the gut, they say, would utilize the full power of the primary immune force, which is located in the small intestine.
"This is potentially a great advance in the way we give vaccines to people," the study's lead author, Mansour Mohamadzadeh, an associate professor of medicine in gastroenterology, said in a university news release. "Then it's quickly dispatched throughout your body. If you can activate the immune system in your gut, you get a much more powerful immune response than by injecting it. The pathogenic bacteria will be eliminated faster."
In the study, the oral anthrax vaccine was fed to mice, which were then exposed to anthrax bacteria. Eighty percent of the mice survived, about the same as mice given an anthrax vaccine injection.
"Their immune response was higher and more robust than with the injected vaccine," Mohamadzadeh said.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, March 17, 2009