What are nucleic acid vaccines and how could they be turned against COVID-19?
All vaccines work by exposing the body to molecules from the pathogen to trigger an immune response-but the method of exposure varies. Here’s how DNA and RNA vaccines work.
Nucleic acid vaccines use genetic material from a disease-causing virus or bacterium (a pathogen) to stimulate an immune response against it. Depending on the vaccine, the genetic material could be DNA or RNA; in both cases it provides the instructions for making a specific protein from the pathogen, which the immune system will recognise as foreign (an antigen). Once inserted into host cells, this genetic material is ready by the cell’s own protein-making machinery and used to manufacture antigens, which then trigger an immune response.
This is relatively new technology, so although DNA and RNA vaccines are being developed against various diseases, including HIV, Zika virus and COVID-19, so far none of them have yet been approved for human use. Several DNA vaccines are licenced for animal use, including a horse vaccine against West Nile Virus.