22 Nov. 2021 – Tot mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, RNA or DNA vaccines have not been widely used, although the technology has been around for years. Now researchers are looking for ways to deliver these vaccines more efficiently, and they have found one: cupping, which is rooted in a practice that has been used for centuries in China and the Middle East.
The tradition typically involves placing heated cups on a person’s skin. As the air inside the beaker cools, the air pressure below the beaker decreases. Practitioners believe that the resulting suction of the skin promotes healing, although evidence for its effectiveness is limited. But scientists have suspected that the process could stimulate skin cells to use injected DNA as a vaccine or gene therapy.
In the body, injected RNA is usually broken down quickly if it is unprotected. In the mRNA COVID vaccines, an oily droplet surrounds the mRNA, protecting it long enough to reach cells. DNA is less vulnerable to degradation, but has another problem: getting enough cells to take it up. Current methods of obtaining DNA in cells include the use of an electrical pulse to open an access point for the DNA. But the side effects include muscle contractions, pain and tissue damage, and the method is not useful in people with pacemakers or other electrical appliance implants.
In a new studypublished in Science Advances, researchers tried vaccination plus cup on rats. They injected one or two doses of a DNA-only COVID vaccine, immediately followed by cup suction where the shot was given. Even if only one dose of vaccine was used, the immune response with cup was about 100 times greater than without cup.
Scientists are not sure why the suction helps, but they suspect that it distorts the skin layers, stretch the cells so that they take up more of the DNA. This method of improving DNA uptake is less painful than other methods and has fewer side effects, including no tissue damage.
DNA vaccines do not require cold storage, making it an encouraging option in areas where maintaining low temperatures during vaccine transport can be difficult. A successful delivery system for DNA vaccines that does not include the side effects of other methods can add another benefit. The company that developed this method, GeneOne Life Science, has already started it clinical trials with a DNA vaccine against COVID-19.