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Vaccination by inhalation Delivering vaccines directly to the lungs can boost immune responses to respiratory infections or lung cancer, study finds.

Many viruses infect their hosts through mucosal surfaces such as the lining of the respiratory tract. MIT researchers have now developed a vaccination strategy that can create an army of T cells that are ready and waiting at those surfaces, offering a quicker response to viral invaders.

The researchers showed that they could induce a strong memory T cell response in the lungs of mice by giving them a vaccine modified to bind to a protein naturally present in mucus. This can help ferry the vaccine across mucosal barriers, such as the lining of the lungs.

“In this paper, we specifically focused on T cell responses that would be useful against viruses or cancer, and our idea was to use this protein, albumin, as sort of a Trojan horse to get the vaccine across the mucosal barrier,” says Darrell Irvine, the senior author of the study, who is the Underwood-Prescott Professor with appointments in the departments of Biological Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering; an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; and a member of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.

In addition to protecting against pathogens that infect the lungs, these types of inhaled vaccines could also be used to treat cancer metastasizing to the lungs or even prevent cancer from developing in the first place, the researchers say.

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