Sanofi Pasteur, a prominent vaccine manufacturer, has developed an artificial immune system that can replicate human immune responses to vaccines and immunotherapies. The Molecular Immune in vitro Construct (MIMIC) System is able to rapidly predict the efficacy of candidate vaccines, as well as determine the most appropriate dosage and time of administration. A biomimetic system such as this is artificially produced to mimic natural, biological processes and mechanisms.
The company describes the system as a “clinical trial in a test tube”, thereby eliminating the need for human test subjects and consequently any potential adverse side effects. Additionally, while animal models have advanced vaccine research immensely, this biomimetic system can produce human immune response profiles not seen in experimental animals.
The MIMIC System
The MIMIC platform is comprised of four distinct steps that can be used independently to examine a specific aspect of the human immune response, or as an integrated system, for a comprehensive representation of immunity.
To begin, researchers must collect white blood cells from pre-screened donors, which are then processed into peripheral blood mononuclear cells (BPMCs). BPMCs are blood cells critical for adequate immune function. The donors are chosen based on various diverse attributes to depict a representative target population.
Secondly, the peripheral tissue equivalent (PTE) module is designed to simulate the innate, non-specific immunity that occurs in the peripheral tissues, such as the skin, in humans. “Non-specific” means that the cells of the innate system defend against pathogens in a generic or comprehensive manner. This system does not recognize or attack specific pathogens. This type of immunity is the body’s first line of defense against infectious agents.
This is followed by the lymphoid tissue equivalent (LTE) module. This module, on the other hand, mimics adaptive, specific immune responses initiated by lymph nodes in the human body. This type of immunity involves the complex interaction between specialized cells to tailor the immune response to a particular foreign invader and offers long-term, protective immunity. A series of 96 well plates, each representing a human test subject, are used as the basis for these two modules.
Last, researchers use a number of different assays to measure the effectiveness of the vaccine or drug on the immune responses to infectious agents. In pharmacology, bioassays determine the concentration and potency of a drug by monitoring its effect on living cells.
Potential and Next Steps
The artificial immune system provides a safe, effective, and humane alternative to animal models, which are the current standard for biological testing. By eliminating human and animal research subjects from the equation, the MIMIC system also removes the ethical debate surrounding animal testing. Animal testing is less efficient and far more expensive than the MIMIC system. Additionally, animal models are not entirely predictive of human immune function and may lead to severe and detrimental side effects. This new system has the potential to significantly reduce the time, cost, and perhaps controversy, associated with vaccine development and production by using an approach that is safer for both humans and animals.
Future research will focus on developing population-specific MIMIC systems, for example for the elderly or neonates. Additionally, Sanofi Pasteur is developing constructs of other organs for a more complete understanding of the human immune system and the body’s response to specific drugs.