(Baltimore, MD)--Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development have successfully tested a potato-based vaccine to combat the Norwalk Virus, which is spread by contaminated food and water. The virus causes severe abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Researchers demonstrated that the edible vaccine is safe and stimulates antibodies, or germ-fighting proteins in the volunteers tested. The study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
We are excited about this novel approach to developing vaccines because of its potential to protect individuals around the world, especially in regions where injected vaccines are less practical, says Carol O. Tacket, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the lead investigator. An edible vaccine could be easy to produce, safe, affordable and effective.
This new approach to delivering a vaccine through a plant was pioneered at the Center for Vaccine Development and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University. The studies were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
To be immunized, people would need to eat a raw vegetable that contains the gene for the vaccine protein. It's exciting to think of the future for this type of vaccine delivery system and the varieties of organisms we may one day be able to fight, says Dr. Tacket.
The Norwalk Virus and closely related members of the same virus family account for more than 90 percent of non-bacterial gastroenteritis (severe abdominal pain and diarrhea) in the United States and in other industrialized countries. In developing countries, the rapid and severe spread of the Norwalk Virus is a leading cause of infant mortality.
Dr. Tacket and colleague Myron M. Levine, M.D., D.T.P.H., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Vaccine Development, worked with researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research and Baylor College of Medicine.
Boyce Thompson researchers created the vaccine by introducing a gene that encoded the Norwalk Virus coat into a potato plant's DNA. The potato vaccine was then tested at the Center for Vaccine Development in a double-blind study of 24 adult volunteers. Results show that 19 of the 20 volunteers (95 percent) who were given the potato containing the vaccine developed antibodies that fight the Norwalk Virus.
Edible plant vaccines will continue to be tested in volunteers for the next few years and could be available to protect people in 5-10 years.
In 1998, Dr. Tacket, along with researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute, published the results of a study of a potato vaccine against E. coli, a common cause of serious diarrhea in children and adults around the world. The study showed that eating the potato was an effective way to develop immunity to the E. coli toxin.
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