Taking One for the Country Gets High-Tech

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Let me just sigh that I’m no longer U.S. government property, a.k.a. Army Soldier/Guinea Pig #### (Expendable)! One of the worst days of Basic Combat training for some recruits is processing, particularly getting vaccinations. I had no problems, but the guy behind me nearly sprayed vomit all over my backside, and another a few places ahead of me in line managed to hit the wall. Having to concentrate on an imaginary fixed to avoid staring at his vomited breakfast as I tried to concentrate on a fixed point on that wall while I got my own injections was mental torture. After that the spectacle of hobbled recruits rubbing sore buttocks was comic relief. But now, someone has decided to make all this seem like a walk in the park. The Army wants to get medieval on disease: Inject Troops With Gas-Propelled, Electro-Charged DNA.

Let me just sigh that I’m no longer U.S. government property, a.k.a. Army Soldier/Guinea Pig #### (Expendable)! One of the worst days of Basic Combat training for some recruits is processing, particularly getting vaccinations. I had no problems, but the guy behind me nearly sprayed vomit all over my backside, and another a few places ahead of me in line managed to hit the wall. Having to concentrate on an imaginary fixed to avoid staring at his vomited breakfast as I tried to concentrate on a fixed point on that wall while I got my own injections was mental torture. After that the spectacle of hobbled recruits rubbing sore buttocks was comic relief. But now, someone has decided to make all this seem like a walk in the park. The Army wants to get medieval on disease: Inject Troops With Gas-Propelled, Electro-Charged DNA.

Right now, DNA-based vaccines are injected into muscles, meaning a genetically engineered plasmid is delivered to “intracellular spaces,” and “is not efficiently taken up by the host cells.” So the Army would instead like to shoot people. Seriously.

In its solicitation, the Army says it wants DNA vaccines that are painted onto microscopic beads, then “deposited into skin cells by gas propulsion.” And since that method can only inject a small dose of DNA, they want researchers to combine the approach with intramuscular electroporation, which “involves injecting the DNA then quickly applying short electrical pulses.” The electric charge creates pores in cell membranes, making it easier for DNA to enter targeted cells.

Sounds great, except that current approaches to intramuscular electroporation are invasive, and, obviously, they hurt. One study in rats also noted the “possibility of low and transient tissue damage induced by electroporation.” The Army wants a gadget that doesn’t rely on jamming needles and electrical pulses into muscle, and instead are after “injection and noninvasive electroporation [that] can be performed using a single integrated device.”

DNA-based vaccines are also still in their infancy: in 2005, the first-ever DNA vaccine for horses was approved, but human trials have yet to generate stellar results. And speaking of invasive: the Army’s delivery method of choice, gene guns, use helium gas to blast DNA into cells and often require surgically exposed muscle tissue to get the job done.

In other words, the Army’s asking for a non-invasive way to do what’s not yet possible, even using surgical methods. If researchers do come up with a device that meets the lofty criteria, though, it’d be just what the Pentagon’s looking for: a reliable way to engineer and deliver combination vaccines — not to mention a quick way to fight back against “unknown, emerging, or genetically engineered pathogens.”

Props to the comenter who quipped, “How long until some anti-vaccination person shows up to warn us that this will produce autistic troops?” But, don’t get me wrong: this good news for all. I just feel for recruits who will also have to find a way to write home without frightening mom’s and wives about a procedure not quite ready for civilians.

Filed under: Military, Science, Spleen Tagged: autism, dna, electroporation, us army, vaccination



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