By Wendy Sarubbi | May 13, 2011 1:47 pm

An innovative way of making vaccines by College of Medicine Microbiologist Henry Daniell has attracted a two-year $761,302 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation because the development has the potential to make vaccines less expensive, more effective and needle free.

Since 2000, Dr. Daniell, a professor at the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, has been developing a new method of creating vaccines using genetically engineered tobacco and lettuce plants to fight diseases like malaria, cholera, dengue or biothreat agents like anthrax or plague.

The Gates Foundation grant will help Dr. Daniell develop a polio vaccine with Konstantin Chumakov, associate director, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. Should Dr. Daniell’s vaccine receive FDA approval, it would open the door for the production of a variety of cheaper, more effective vaccines around the world.

Thanks to the global immunization effort, polio has been reduced 99% and is on the threshold of becoming the second disease ever to be eradicated. However, 1,292 cases of polio were confirmed in 2010. Having less expensive and more accessible vaccines could help combat polio and other diseases that are of concern such as malaria and cholera.

Currently vaccines are made through a fermentation process of killed, inactivated or avirulent forms of bacteria or viruses. This requires expensive equipment and continual production because the vaccines require refrigeration and don’t have a long shelf life. Dr. Daniell’s vaccines are delivered in capsule form, and are less expensive because fermentation and refrigeration are not required. This also increases the vaccine’s shelf life. “This means they would be accessible to all people and all countries, even the poorest and most remote,” he said.

Using plants to produce vaccine capsules has an additional benefit. Once ingested, the pills activate the immune system housed in the gut, which is more powerful than the blood’s immune system – the traditional target of injectable vaccines. Because Dr. Daniell uses immunity-stimulating proteins rather than actual bacteria or viruses, the vaccines are more potent and safer, he said.

“I can’t tell you how excited I feel,” Dr. Daniell said of the Gates Foundation grant. “I’ve dedicated most of my academic life to this because I want to make people’s lives better. My dream is to eradicate the world’s top 10 diseases, and this opportunity is a huge leap in reaching that dream.”

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