Growing new breed of vaccine-producing plants to fight human diseases worldwide

At his presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) here July 24, 2004, Arizona State University Professor Charles J. Arntzen explained the newest advances in his research on plant-producing vaccines.


The development and introduction of new vaccines to improve global public health faces many challenges, Arntzen noted. The vaccines must address the need for lower costs, oral-administration (needle-free), heat stability, and they must include combination vaccines including those that protect against diseases that occur predominantly in developing countries, he added.

Over the last decade, the team working with Arntzen has shown that a set of genes from human pathogens can be introduced into plant cells, and intact plants regenerated which “bio-manufacture” subunit vaccines consisting of the pathogen gene products. Simple feeding of the plant tissues to animals or humans results in an immune response to the subunit vaccines,” Arntzen commented.

Arntzen’s research focuses now on producing vaccines in tomatoes to fight human afflictions such as cholera, Norwalk Virus and hepatitis B. Norwalk Virus is a major cause of gastrointestinal infection and diarrhea. Diarrheal diseases kill at least two million people in the world each year, most of them children, Arntzen noted.

Ongoing research is focused on development of minimal processing technology, adopted from the food industry, to yield uniform doses of heat-stable vaccine for oral delivery, Arntzen said. He provided a summary on the strategies used to ensure that plants used in vaccine manufacture will not be mixed with those used in the food chain, and on the rationale for adoption of plant-derived vaccine technology in developing countries.

Arntzen was appointed the Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair at Arizona State University in Tempe in 2000. He served as the Founding Director of the Arizona Biodesign Institute until May 2003. He currently serves as the Co-Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology of that Institute, with Professor Roy Curtiss. Arntzen was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1983 and to the National Academy of Sciences in India the following year. He has served since 2001 on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) of President George W. Bush.

Immediately before his talk 6:30 p.m. today, Arntzen received the American Society of Plant Biologists 2004 Leadership in Science Public Service Award. The award is presented to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to science and society.

Past years recipients of the ASPB Leadership in Science Public Service Award are Alexander von Humboldt Award for Agriculture winner Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, Nobel Laureate for Peace Dr. Norman Borlaug, Dr. Ingo Potrykus, whose discoveries produced Golden Rice to combat human blindness and other afflictions, Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Gordon Conway, and U.S. Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO).

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