Pollen 'Pills' Could Deliver Vaccines to Soldiers

Tiny pollen spores can be crushed, cleaned and then filled with vaccine as future vaccine pills in a U.S. military-funded project. (DARPA | Harvinder Gill)

Sneezing allergy sufferers try to avoid plant pollen like the plague. But U.S. military troops could end up popping vaccine pills made from tiny pollen particles into their mouths.

The idea harnesses the power of pollen's natural engineering — a tough outer shell made from a polymer that could survive the human body's stomach acids and digestive processes. That new project by Texas Tech University has drawn military funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Oral vaccines skip the pain of a needle injection and don't need trained medical personnel to administer. But researchers have struggled to create vaccine pills that can survive long enough inside the body to properly deliver the vaccine.

Harvinder Gill, a chemical engineer at Texas Tech University, plans to scoop out the pollen's allergy-causing innards and leave just the nonallergenic outer shell. Vaccine could fill the empty shells for troops to ingest.

Gill represents one of the academic researchers who received funding through DARPA's Young Faculty Awards program. His funded project will become part of DARPA's broader efforts to make battlefield medicine both simpler and more effective for troops.

Similar DARPA medical projects include developing miniaturized biochip versions of human body parts and organs for speedier drug testing, as well as creating swarms of tiny sensors that could diagnose or treat soldiers from inside their bodies.

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