Press release 27/24 - 13.03.2024

New measuring device should improve the development of vaccines

The Lipid State Observer (LISO) simplifies processes and conserves resources.

New lipid-based medications like the mRNA vaccine used during the corona pandemic are very sensitive. A measuring device developed at the interface of the Institute of Theoretical Medicine and the Institute of Physics at the University of Augsburg can now measure the structure of such medications in a frozen state. This should make for safer storage and enable the development of more stable vaccines. The project is being funded to the tune of €1 million by the Federal Ministry for Economic A/airs and Climate Action and the European Social Fund.
A woman in a white coat is working in a laboratory with a black, box-shaped device that is smaller than a shoebox. “Welcome to LISO Software” is written on the device display. © University of Augsburg

“The use of lipids is currently revolutionising medicine,” says Dr Nicolas Färber from Prof. Christoph Westerhausen’s working group for biological physics. Lipids, that is fats, form the basis for mRNA vaccines, but they are also used as a means of transport in cancer therapies. The active ingredient is packaged in tiny globules from lipid molecules known as a so-called lipid nanoparticle (LNP). The problem is that such medications are very sensitive and have to be stored and transported at freezing temperatures. Until now, it was near impossible to examine them while they were frozen.

Together with researchers from physics, pharmacy, and medicine, Färber developed the Lipid State Observer (LISO), a compact table device that can analyse the structure of lipid-based medications like mRNA vaccines and determine their suitability, even when they are frozen. A special dye that glows in a variety of colours is used depending on whether the LNP is a tightly packed sphere or a loose compound. The state of the particles can then be read using a spectrometer.   

Device has a wide range of applications

“We can quickly identify whether a newly developed vaccine is promising for practical application or not,” explains Färber, who is leading the LISO project. This new measuring device has diverse applications in research and for pharmaceutical companies. It may help in the development of sustainable and long-lasting substances for vaccines and for immune-based cancer therapies. The measuring system could also be used in in-vitro diagnostics in future in order to determine pathological changes in the cell membrane. 

“I am particularly pleased that this project will enable the fruits of our fundamental research into cell membranes to be put into practical application to meet the challenges of developing novel vaccines and therapeutics,” says Prof. Westerhausen, who heads the working group on biological physics and who was appointed as head of the Chair of Physiology at the Faculty of Medicine in January 2024.

Aim is to bring the device into serial production

“Our next big goal is to make this new measuring method a standard for testing lipid nanoparticles with registration in the European Pharmacopoeia,” explains pharmacist Katharina Beck. She is coordinating cooperations between industry partners and research institutes in the LISO project, where several interns are working alongside researchers and student assistants. The device is designed to provide extremely low temperatures of up to -80°C, but without the need for special coolants such as liquid nitrogen. It will also be smaller than a shoebox and easy to operate. Measuring data can be quickly analysed and evaluated using specially developed software.

Nicolas Färber, Katharina Beck, and Christoph Westerhausen are now planning to found a biotech company from the university and together with cooperation partners and pilot customers from research and industry in the fields of pharmacy, medicine, and the life sciences bring the device to series production by 2025. The project is funded to the tune of €1.1 million by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action as well as from the European Social Fund in the context of the EXIST funding programme for university-based business start-ups.

Scientific Contact

Professor für Physiologie
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter & Projektleiter EXIST-Projekt LISO

Media Contact

Corina Härning
Deputy Media Officer
Communications and Media Relations