November 22, 2021 – Until the emergence of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19, RNA or DNA vaccines had not been used on a large scale, even though the technology had been around for years. Today, researchers are looking for ways to deliver these vaccines more effectively, and they have found one: the cupping, which is rooted in a practice that has been used for centuries in China and the Middle East.
The tradition is usually to place heated cups on a person’s skin. As the air inside the cup cools, the air pressure under the cup decreases. Practitioners believe that the resulting skin suction promotes healing, although the evidence for its effectiveness is limited. But scientists suspected the process could stimulate skin cells to absorb DNA injected as a vaccine or gene therapy.
In the body, injected RNA usually breaks down quickly if it is not protected. In COVID mRNA vaccines, an oily droplet surrounds the mRNA, protecting it long enough to reach cells. DNA is less vulnerable to degradation but faces a different problem: obtaining enough cells to absorb it. Current methods of getting DNA into cells include using an electrical pulse to open an entry point for DNA. But side effects include muscle twitching, pain, and tissue damage, and the method cannot be used in people with pacemakers or other electrical device implants.
In a new studypublished in Science Advances, researchers have tried vaccination and cupping on rats. They injected one or two doses of a DNA-only COVID vaccine, immediately followed by a suction cup where the vaccine was administered. Even if a single dose of vaccine was used, the immune response with cupping was about 100 times greater than that without cupping.
Scientists don’t know why the suction helps, but they suspect that it stresses the layers of the skin, stretching the cells so that they take in more DNA. This method of enhancing 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 them an encouraging option in areas where it may be difficult to maintain low temperatures during vaccine transport. A successful delivery system for DNA vaccines that does not involve the side effects of other methods could add another benefit. The company that developed this method, GeneOne Life Science, has already started clinical trials with a DNA vaccine against COVID-19.
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