UC Riverside

David Lo

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David Lo's work on developing a needle-free vaccine delivery system could help people around the world receive the immunizations they need.

Getting Vaccines to Those Who Need it, Efficiently and Painlessly

Imagine the ease of a painless, needle-free vaccination that could help you avoid such common illnesses as the flu.

David Lo, a distinguished professor of biomedical sciences at UCR, is working to develop a needle-free vaccine for infectious diseases like influenza, which could be quickly and cheaply applied all over the world.

A flu shot without a needle?

David LoOne of the major projects in Lo's lab, the potential development of a needle-free vaccine, is being worked on by the studying of M-cells, a special set of cells associated with mucosal immune tissues. His lab envisions that these vaccines will be delivered orally, in pill form, or via nasal spray.

M-cells are what the immune system uses to determine if an infectious disease is present in your body. When they detect infection, they help capture viruses and bacteria, delivering them to the immune system to be dealt with.

The vaccine that Lo is developing promises to enhance the ability of the immune system to respond to infectious diseases. The vaccine works by targeting delivery of the vaccine to the M-cells in your body to efficiently stimulate an immune system response as if it were seeing an infectious organism.

By developing a needle-free vaccine, Lo believes the vaccines can be given out cheaper and quicker all over the world. He also envisions that the vaccines will be delivered without worry of infection from an infected syringe. “Infected syringes are especially a concern in the developing world where they don’t have sophisticated medical facilities, and trained medical personnel are limited," Lo said.

Helping your immune system work

Lo is also researching the factors that cause the response and activation of T-cells in the immune system, which is a significant reason for the occurrence of autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

An autoimmune disease occurs from an overactive and unnecessary response of the immune system against tissues and other substances that are normally present in the body. Type 1 diabetes, for example, occurs when the immune system unnecessarily destroys insulin-producing cells.

“We know that most of the autoimmune diseases humans have are actually mediated by T-cells that are inappropriately responding to our own tissues,"  Lo said. "We’re interested in figuring out what are the factors that regulate whether or not a T-cell appropriately responds to, say, a viral infection, versus inappropriately responding to your own tissues.”

Lo hopes to find some sort of agent to combat the unnecessary response of the immune system. “One of the key answers we’re interested in is if there is something, say, a vaccine, that could raise the level of immune activity so that regulation is more effective. Thus, a stronger trigger to give the body things like allergies or autoimmune diseases would be needed."

Starting from the ground up

Lo, who has been studying T-cells for over 25 years, says that the fun in his research is being able to start out working at the molecular level, and relating that work all the way up to the patient level.

“We can really start from the smallest molecular details and analyze all the way up to the individual. What is nice about UC Riverside is that there are so many facilities, all of which have the most sophisticated equipment to go all the way from the smallest molecular details to the patient level,” Lo said.

His research is also currently being supported by a "Grand Challenges in Global Health" award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

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