Instead of a shot, have a banana
Vaccines could be added to food
May 27, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EDT
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The future of vaccinations could be a banana split away.
Biotech researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithica, New York, are studying ways to fortify raw foods -- including bananas and potatoes -- with vaccines to provide painless, inexpensive protection against disease.
The Institute's Charles Arntzen explained the benefits. (129K AIFF or WAV sound)
In their tests, scientists add genes from certain viruses to plants, then grow the genetically altered plants. Once a crop is ready, scientists test the vaccine on laboratory mice to see if the virus triggers the proper immune response.
To administer the vaccine, scientists rely on a simple technique -- giving the patient something to eat. "It's not sophisticated," Arntzen insists. "All you have to do is take the plant material and eat it."
If the project is successful in the lab, it could mean the end of painful and costly shots that help prevent cholera, hepatitis B and other diseases.
"For example, (for) respiratory diseases such as the flu, we know oral vaccinations can be effective," Arntzen said. The food vaccines would make an oral remedy easier to swallow, especially for children.
Arntzen and his coworkers hope to finalize a vaccine soon, but since banana crops take three years to grow, an edible shot using the fruit is at least 10 years away.
Scientists know the vaccines are effective in raw potatoes, but people do not readily eat the vegetable uncooked; researchers worry that cooking the potato might weaken the medicine.
The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization. Once armed with the medicinal food, scientists would hope to vaccinate all the world's 125 million children each year.
- Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research
- National Institutes of Health
- The World Health Organization WWW Homepage
- The World Health Organization Gopher Menu
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