Scientists use plants in new polio vaccine breakthrough

August 16, 2017

The world may have taken a step towards a polio-free future as researchers make a breakthrough in vaccine development against the disease.

An international consortium of scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK was able to produce a new poliovirus vaccine by growing virus-like particles (VLPs), which are non-pathogenic mimics of the virus, in plants.

VLPs have a similar appearance to viruses, but are non-infectious. These components were biologically engineered so they don’t possess the nucleic acid enabling viruses to replicate.

Previous efforts of producing VLPs of papilloma and hepatitis B viruses have been successful, but prior research indicated poliovirus VLPs were too unstable to make practical vaccines since the genetic material that makes these pathogens infectious also is integral to holding particles together.

However, the researchers used cryo-electron microscopy at Diamond Light Source’s Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) to gain a closer look at the structure of these VLPS. Findings confirmed the structure of these particles as well as illustrating the external features of the particles were identical to those of the poliovirus.

“We were inspired by the successful synthetic vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease, also investigated at Diamond as part of UK research collaboration. By using Diamond’s visualization capabilities and the expertise of Oxford University in structural analysis and computer simulation, we were able to visualize something a billion times smaller than a pinhead and further enhance the design atom by atom of the empty shells. Through information gained at Diamond, we also verified that these have essentially the same structure as the native virus to ensure an appropriate immune response,” said Dave Stuart, director of life sciences at Diamond and professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford.

Genes that carry information to produce VLPs were injected into plant tissues where the host began reproducing large quantities of them by using its own protein expression mechanisms, according to the announcement.

Results from laboratory tests revealed the engineered particles gave animal’s immunity from the disease leading the way to human vaccines to be produced by plants on a major scale.

“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 don’t want to stop at a lab technique,” said Professor George Lomonossoff, a research scientist at the John Innes Centre.

The medical community has made great progress in combatting the polio virus over the years with the number of cases down to a few hundred worldwide. The new advancement could be the key to finally eradicating the disease.


Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

Comments are closed.