RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A prototype created by North Carolina State University researchers just might lead to a new method of protection against COVID-19—a vaccine without the needle.

In a July 5 press release, the university said the vaccine prototype is shelf stable at room temperature for up to three months and targets the lungs “specifically and effectively.”

The big difference from what is currently used is how it’s administered.

This vaccine is designed to easily be self-administered – using an inhaler.

According to researchers, the delivery mechanism for the vaccine, called LSC-Exo (a lung-derived exosome) has proven to be more effective at evading the lung’s mucosal lining than what is typically used now, which are lipid-based nanoparticles.

Simply put, the leaders behind this new vaccine prototype say it would boost effectiveness while also creating a solution to the current shelf-life dilemma.

“mRNA vaccines in their current formulation require cold storage and trained medical personnel to deliver them. A vaccine that is stable at room temperature and that could be self-administered would greatly reduce wait times for patients as well as stress on the medical profession during a pandemic,” said Ke Cheng, the Randall B. Terry Jr. Distinguished Professor in Regenerative Medicine at NC State.

Cheng also said that taking the vaccine by way of intramuscular shot is less efficient at getting the vaccine to its intended destination—the pulmonary system.

“Inhaled vaccines would increase their benefit against COVID-19,” Cheng added.

So, now the big question. Does it actually work?

Researchers say they have conducted rodent models to test the effectiveness of this prototype and what they found was “promising.”

In these models, N.C. State reports that the prototype did create a production of antibodies and actually did protect the rodents, after two vaccine doses, from infection when exposed to live SARS-CoV-2.

The rodent model also proved the vaccine was capable of being kept on a shelf at room temperature for the duration of three months.

“An inhalable vaccine will confer both mucosal and systemic immunity, it’s more convenient to store and distribute, and could be self-administered on a large scale,” Cheng said. “So while there are still challenges associated with scaling up production, we believe that this is a promising vaccine worthy of further research and development.”

Time will tell if this “promising,” and unique take on a COVID-19 vaccine will hit the market and become available for at-home use. In the meantime, the work continues in a collaborative effort with the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

North Carolina State University has filed a provisional patent on the technologies reported in those publications and the patent right has been exclusively licensed to Xsome Biotech, an N.C. State startup company co-founded by Cheng.

For more information and scientific details on this prototype vaccine, see the full release from N.C. State University.