The well-known viral disease – polio might be heading for a global eradication with the arrival of a plant-based new vaccine developed recently by a team of researchers in the United Kingdom. Scientists from John Innes Centre, Norwich recently came up with the unique vaccine using an approach that employs virus-like particles (VLPs) – non-pathogenic mimics of polio virus which are developed in plants.
The scientists state that in the process which they say is cheap, easy and quick, genes that transport information to manufacture VLPs are passed through to plant tissues. And then the host plant replicates so many of them by applying its own protein methods of expression.
According to a professor at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, George Lomonossoff, “This is an incredible collaboration involving plant science, animal virology and structural biology. The question for us now is how to scale it up – we do not want to stop at a lab technique.”
Even though VLPs have the semblance of viruses, they are not contagious. Scientists explain that they have been biologically restructured; as a result they do not contain the nucleic acid that permits viruses to reproduce their kind. In doing this, scientists kind of seized a relative of the tobacco plant’s metabolism to turn its leaves into polio-vaccine “factories”.
When a thorough analysis of the 3D structure of the particles was carried out it revealed they looked almost identical to poliovirus. And so they tend to behave like the virus; this prompts the action of the immune system such that there will be no poliomyelitis infection, the researchers stated. Lomonossoff told the BBC News website: “They are incredibly good mimics. It’s a very promising technology; I would hope we get vaccines produced in plants in the not too distant future.”
Results from laboratory tests proved that polio virus mimics furnished animals with protection against the disease, thereby creating room for the large scale production of human vaccines by plants – aided by the efforts of partners in the pharmaceutical industry.
Lomonossoff expressed excitedly that, “The beauty of this system of growing non-pathogenic virus mimics in plants, is that it boosts our ability to scale-up the production of vaccine candidates to combat emerging threats to human health.”
It is stated that apart from the hope of quickly eradicating polio, the approach in this vaccine research which was funded by World Health Organisation is targeted at finding reliable replacements for the polio vaccine. Researchers are also expectant that the vaccine will be able to ward off unexpected threats posed by infections like Zika virus or Ebola. Speaking about the approach to creating the plant-based vaccine, Lomonossoff added, “It’s highly responsive, and that’s one of the great attractions of the technology.”