It is hard enough to find vaccines for the world’s deadliest diseases, but scientists also grapple with another concern: shelf life.
In order for vaccines to remain potent, they must be kept within a range of suitable temperatures. For instance, they are rendered useless in excessive heat.
The effects of such temperature fluctuations can be substantial. According to the global health nonprofit PATH, the cholera vaccine Dukoral has a shelf life of 36 months when stored at temperatures between 2-8 degrees Celsius. If stored at 27 degrees Celsius, the vaccine will only last 14 days.
This poses a problem for those performing vaccinations in the developing world; in countries near the equator, the heat can be stifling. That means vaccines could expire when they are needed most.
Compounding the problem is the lack of electricity in certain regions. With high temperatures and no reliable way of keeping supplies cold, many vaccines go to waste.
At Intellectual Ventures Lab, scientists are developing a new device to keep vaccines at the ideal temperature, as part of their Global Good program. The Arktek, a passive vaccine storage device, is able to keep vaccines cold for a month with no electricity. It uses the same techniques to remain protected from extreme temperatures as employed by spacecrafts.
The device was put to the test during the recent Ebola outbreak. When health care workers started to test Ebola vaccine candidates, they needed a way to keep them cold during transport and storage.
The vaccines were required to be kept between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius, well below the usual temperature range of the Arktek device. However, with some quick modifications and carefully conducted tests, the container was modified to support such low temperatures.
That meant scientists could prolong the shelf life of experimental Ebola vaccines, if only for a few days longer.
– Kevin McLaughlin