A Texas Tech researcher has won a hefty grant to study a medical innovation.

Harvinder Gill, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study an oral vaccine delivery platform.

The grant is part of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, and Gill is one of 51 recipients of the award. He will use the funding to study the use of pollen grains for oral vaccine delivery.

“Pollen grains have a tough outer shell that can withstand the harsh acid and enzyme-rich environment in the stomach associated with the digestion process,” said Gill. “We can remove the plant material inside the pollens and load vaccine into the empty shell for delivery through the stomach to the intestine and into the body, much like a Trojan horse.”

The risk of pollen allergies is also mitigated in this approach, because the plant proteins that cause allergies are removed during the pollen-cleaning process.

The oral vaccination approach has worked on mice, and the NIH grant will allow gill to continue development, and bring it closer to human use.