By Wendy Sarubbi | December 2, 2011 2:33 pm

Touting the future of “green” drugs, Dr. Henry Daniell shared his research about how genetically modified plants can cure diseases such as diabetes, hemophilia and polio at the Luminary Series in November.

Dr. Daniell, Pegasus Professor and Trustee Chair in the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, delivered his lecture to about 115 people at the Interlachen Country Club in Winter Park on November 16. Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine, welcomed the attendees, and Dr. Pappachan Kolattukudy, director of the Burnett school, introduced Dr. Daniell.

“Greater things are yet to come from his research,” said Dr. Kolattukudy, preparing audience members for an evening of discovery about Dr. Daniel’s current projects.  “He is the most hardworking scientist.”

The current system of vaccine production is costly and inconvenient, Dr. Daniell said. Fermentation equipment is expensive, vaccines must be refrigerated, and trained personnel are needed to deliver the vaccines by injection.

Plant-based vaccine capsules would eliminate those concerns, he said.

“This universal delivery system will cut costs, ” Dr. Daniell said, meaning millions of people around the world could be treated for pennies.

Like a talented director who knows how to play up his actors’ strengths, Dr. Henry Daniell explained why plants, especially lettuce, took a starring role in his research: It’s because of the new proteins they could make. Plant cells are re-engineered, or genetically modified, to encapsulate a particular protein so the protein can be ingested and safely travel through the stomach before being released into the small intestines, where the immune system can act on it.

For example, Dr. Daniell said, plant-based capsules could restore the body’s ability to produce insulin and provide a cure for millions of people who suffer from insulin dependent, or Type 1, diabetes. His team injected the human insulin gene into lettuce leaves, and then administered capsules of freeze-dried plant cells to diabetic mice. Mice who received the capsules began producing insulin and no longer needed insulin injections. Untreated mice died within 15 weeks. He also showed evidence to induce natural insulin secretion to treat Type 2 diabetes.

For patients with hemophilia, many suffer fatal allergic reactions to certain proteins that help blood clotting. Using genetically modified plants to encapsulate the clotting factor, Dr. Daniell is working on a way to make patients resistant to any deadly allergic reactions.  He provided evidence for elimination of anaphylaxis and death in hemophilia B mice after oral delivery of the blood-clotting factor, bioencapsulated within plant cells.

Plant-made vaccines could also prevent tragedies such as the deadly vaccine-related  polio outbreaks in India and the Congo, Dr. Daniell said.  Plant-based vaccines, free of any virus or killed pathogens, would be an answer, he said.  He showed several examples of successful vaccines developed in plants against cholera, malaria and plague.

To further his research, Dr. Daniell has landed several grants, including a two-year $761,302 grant from the Gates Foundation, two National Institutes of Health grants totaling $5.5 million to research a better treatment for hemophilia, and a $500,000 to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes from the Juvenile Diabetes Research foundation .

The lecture hit home with Elizabeth Bell, who was in the audience. Despite being healthy and with no family history of the disease, the mother of three said she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year.

“It’s great to know these people care,” Bell said of Dr. Daniell.


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