Instead of a corona vaccination, simply spray a spray into the nose with a spade – researchers led by Joseph Rosenecker from the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich are currently working on this project. And the study results so far make the scientists confident.
Experiments on mice have proven that the principle works: Specially developed tiny particles can ensure that SARS-CoV-2 viruses do not attack cells in the nasopharynx in the first place. In other words: The nanoparticles developed by a team from LMU could not only protect against a serious illness, like the corona vaccines available to date, but at best they could even protect us from infection.
A nasal spray as a real “game changer” in the pandemic? Answers to the most pressing questions about the nasal spray from Joseph Rosenecker, specialist in pediatric and adolescent medicine and pediatric pneumology and head of the research project and outpatient clinic for rehabilitative and preventive pediatrics at the LMU Munich.
How did research into the special nasal spray come about?
Originally, the aim of the research was to smuggle mRNA into the airway cells in order to heal congenital diseases such as cystic fibrosis, says Professor Rosenecker in the BR interview. For more than 15 years, his team has been working “on mRNA for transfer to the respiratory tract,” emphasizes the doctor.
How does the nasal spray work and why could it be particularly helpful in the pandemic?
The first contact of the corona virus with the body takes place via the respiratory tract, explains Rosenecker. However, before the viruses “dock” to the airway cells, as the doctor says, the viruses first have to penetrate through a thin film of liquid that covers the airways. The scientists’ theory is therefore: As soon as viruses hit this liquid film, “antibodies in this liquid film could ensure that the virus does not attack the cells in the first place,” says Rosenecker. This means that not only serious illnesses can be prevented with the spray. An infection with the virus would not occur with this method. “This would enable us to combat this pandemic more effectively,” emphasizes the scientist.
What are the benefits of the nasal spray?
But not only nipping the infection in the bud would be an advantage of such a nasal spray if it works according to the ideas of Rosenecker and his team. The acceptance of a spray to protect against infection is higher than that of a vaccination because you don’t need a needle, emphasizes the doctor. Other advantages of the nasal spray, which Rosenecker cites, are: You don’t need “these extreme cold chains” as with a vaccine if you store nanoparticles as a powder and only liquefy them shortly before use, which his team is working on. In addition, in contrast to vaccination, little or no medical staff is required to administer the nasal spray.
How far is research on nasal vaccination?
So far, however, the Munich scientists have only been able to prove in animal experiments with mice that the principle works, at least with DNA material from viruses. Rosenecker cannot yet say how long it will take for the current trials to become a promising mRNA spray. That depends on many factors, says the doctor, especially on the financial means provided.
A few days ago, Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger announced that she would support the Munich project called “Zell-Trans” with 1.7 million euros. According to researcher Rosenecker, however, “a much higher investment” is needed for the development of the nasal spray. And also more time. It could be years before a working nasal vaccine is available. There is already other research on nasal sprays to protect against corona viruses, some of which are further in their development. But these sprays work differently than the spray from Munich is supposed to do.