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DNA vaccine can offer painless jabs
  Jonathon Carr-Brown, Health Correspondent
Britain Sunday Times
BRITISH scientists are developing a range of "DNA vaccines" that could replace traditional forms of immunisation for flu, hepatitis B and diseases such as skin cancer and diabetes.
Researchers at Cardiff University have discovered a means of delivering DNA directly into skin cells, allowing it to be spread efficiently throughout the body.
The breakthrough could lead to mass immunisation campaigns being carried out by post. Patients would be able to administer the vaccine themselves by pressing a silicon chip embedded with 400 microscopic needles onto the back of their hand for a few seconds.
The process would be painless because the tiny needles only penetrate the outer layer of skin and stop short of the body's pain receptors.
Scientists from Cardiff's Welsh School of Pharmacy are looking at using the technique to deliver DNA vaccinations for flu and are hopeful that a vaccine can be developed before the next flu pandemic. They believe the same method can be used to inoculate against hepatitis B.
Dr James Birchall, head of the school's gene delivery group, explained the new system's advantages over traditional vaccines, which are based on cultivating and modifying samples of the original germ.
"[DNA vaccines] are easier to produce. You don't have to grow the vaccine," he said. "That makes them cheaper and we've proved they can be painlessly self-administered."
The vaccinations work by introducing DNA directly into skin cells. The DNA then starts making proteins that are recognised by the body as foreign bodies and attacked.
South Korean scientists have been testing a tuberculosis vaccine based on DNA from bacteria. When given to sick mice, the vaccine reduced relapse rates and re-infection.
The school is considering running safety trials in Britain and hopes the vaccines could be available within five years.
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