Purdue graduate's technology could help stabilize vaccines

 
By JOSEPH PAUL
Updated 2/15/2015 8:19 AM
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- If you think silk is good only for fabric, think again.

In one Purdue University graduate's hands, silk-based technology just might save millions of lives - including more than 21 million children worldwide who have yet to receive proper immunizations, according to the World Health Organization.

Michael Schrader, a 2004 Purdue graduate, co-founded Vaxess Technologies, which uses a protein found in silk to stabilize vaccines that can be transported without refrigeration, extending their global reach.

"In the U.S., we take it for granted that we're going to be able to walk to the doctor's office and get the measles vaccine or other vaccines," Schrader told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1zSS9G8 ). "That's simply not the case in some pockets around the world."

Vaxess has received Verizon's $1 million Powerful Answers Award, which challenges businesses and entrepreneurs to provide innovative solutions in education, health care, sustainability and transportation.

Silk, a centuries-old material, contains a protein called fibroid that Vaxess found creates a "protective pocket," stabilizing vaccines and reducing the need for refrigeration, Schrader said.

"We found that that protein actually induces a tremendous level of stability when combined with biological products," he said. "(When) we take that protein after purification and add it the vaccine ... what we see is a dramatic improvement in stability."

Although not yet on the market, the technology could target polio and measles, among others diseases, which Schrader said remain a global threat. About 1.5 million children younger than 5 died in 2008 from diseases preventable by vaccination, according to WHO. The award will enable Vaxess to focus on products less commercially viable but more likely to impact worldwide health.

"It gives us freedom to move those products up much higher in our development process than we would normally be able to," he said.

The award was created by Verizon to find creative, technology-based solutions to the biggest global problems, said John Doherty, senior vice president of corporate development for Verizon.

"We're blown away by this year's winners and look forward to seeing their ideas flourish," Doherty said in an email.

A Newburgh native, Schrader said his Hoosier and Boilermaker roots have influenced his success today.

"I think the beauty of Purdue is they really teach you how to think of a very structured, methodological approach to solving these open-ended problems," he said. "What growing up in Indiana taught me certainly was the value of hard work."

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Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com

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