Potato cure

Edible vaccine for cancer of cervix created by incorporating gene of the cancer-causing virus in potatoes

Published: Saturday 31 August 2002

transgenic potatoes may be used in the future to vaccinate women against cancer of cervix caused by the human papilloma virus (hpv). It is the most common form of cancer afflicting Indian women. The vaccine was developed by a team of scientists from us-based University of Rochester, Cornell University and Tulane University.

The gene of the virus is incorporated in the potato's genetic material so that the potato produces proteins similar to that of the virus. These proteins act as foreign substance when the potato is eaten, thereby, leading to the formation of antibodies. When the vaccinated person is exposed to the virus, these antibodies bind to the outer shell of the virus and prevent its entry into the host cells. Mice that ate the potato developed an immune response against the virus. "We have found in pre-clinical studies that ingestion of transgenic potato results in the same type of immune response that we are able to generate by injecting normal vaccines," says Robert Rose, department of medicine, University of Rochester Medical Centre, New York, usa.

The vaccine has some obvious benefits, such as low cost. It can also be grown in unlimited quantity. However, it even has some drawbacks. According to Nigel Higson, chairperson of uk-based Primary Care Virology Group, regulating the vaccine's dose might prove to be difficult. Along with this, cooking and the digestion process might destroy the proteins. The vaccine's creators admit that this is possible. "Using potato poses a problem as it cannot be eaten raw and cooking destroys the proteins. Therefore, the final version of the vaccine is more likely to be something that can be eaten raw such as banana," they say. At this stage, the safety of the vaccine has been evaluated only in a limited fashion.The vaccine is likely to be commercially available within a decade.

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