It's really heartening to read stories like this: Professor Henry Daniell -an Indian-born plant biologist at the University of Southern Florida, has developed a method of genetically altering tobacco plants to produce vaccines against a number of deadly diseases - including the dreaded Anthrax bacillus.
I first read about his research in this field a few years ago, and was intrigued-but the story "just never took off". Apart from posting a few sentences,I dropped it.
Now the story has "bounced back" : The researcher found financial backing ,and has completed preliminary tests. Take a look at where his efforts are leading.
"Professor Henry Daniell of the University of Central Florida has devised a way to produce oral vaccines at a fraction of the usual cost, making them affordable in developing countries.
Professor Daniell says: "One third of the world population, two billion people, earn less than two dollars a day. And a 26,000 to 40,000 dollar treatment is unimaginable for that population. So even though treatments are available, they're beyond their reach. And now, through oral delivery, it is possible for the world, no matter where they live, to get this treatment in an affordable manner."
Scientists first inject plants, like tobacco, lettuce or carrots, with vaccine genes.
They are then planted in a greenhouse before being crushed and put into capsules to be taken by patients.
The method skips a number of traditional processes involved in producing the therapeutic proteins needed to make vaccines thus cutting the price of the final product.
Professor Daniell adds : "By doing this you completely eliminate all the other costs associated with the therapeutic proteins. But the major unanticipated advantage of this was our ability to cure certain autoimmune diseases which has never been done before. And so that was an added benefit which came in relation to reducing the cost of the therapeutic proteins."
These oral vaccines, if approved, would be much easier to mass produce.
It is estimated just one acre of tobacco plants, for example, could produce enough Anthrax vaccine to inoculate everyone in the United States.
Next scheduled are Human trials : one of the two major obstacles to overcome.(The other obstacle is the process itself: genetically modified plants are looked upon with horror by some Europeans - and face considerable resistance from modern-day Luddites at home.)
Let's hope the resistance can be overcome , as this is research that could revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry !