“The gold standard for vaccination is through an intramuscular shot to the arm,” says Tarik Massoud, MD, Ph.D., professor of radiology. This standard may change, however, as the coronavirus could be stopped at its most vulnerable point of entry, or the nose. Massoud continues that he and Ramasamy Paulmurugan, Ph.D., also a professor of radiology, thought that “theoretically…administering protection at the site of infection could produce a more robust response.” The tests have only been conducted on mice, but promising results were shown for successful protection against a pseudovirus resembling SARS-CoV-2—proteins that would spike healthy cells during infection. The nasal spray would release gold nanoparticles with harmless yet virus-like DNA that detail the construction of antibodies and other immune cells to recognize and remember potential threats to the body. The molecules would also act as barriers against infections by limiting viral settlement in nasal passages that could be transferred to the lungs.
Paulmurugan and Massoud did not intend to focus their research on immunology and COVID-19, however. The main purpose for the formation of the nanoparticles used for this specific research was to find a treatment for glioblastoma, which is a type of brain tumor. As they attempted to transport molecules across the blood-brain barrier, they discovered that tiny gold particles were among the successful specimen—the team chose these particles to move forward with the research.
The gold nanoparticles are known for their light, transportable nature through the nasal passage to the lungs. They are capable of copying a DNA sequence coming from a SARS-CoV-2, which is remembered by the body’s immune cells, as previously mentioned, once it is deemed to be suspicious. Once these nanoparticles were transferred into the nose of the mice, researchers hoped to see absorption in the nerves in the nasal passage then to the brain. Instead, it was guided to the lungs and caused a quicker breath cycle with the mice. Massoud then hypothesized that they could “swap the glioblastoma therapeutic for a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein”.
As much as a nasal spray could be the more accessible option, however, it is too soon to consider switching vaccine shots for a spray, explains Paulmurugan. The ultimate goal for the research is to find an effective and stable intranasal COVID-19 vaccine that can also be globally shipped and self-administered; Paulmurugan and Massoud are optimistic about their results and are looking to replicate the results with humans as well.