Science News

A Portion of Chips With Hepatitis Vaccine

Sun, 20th Feb 2005

Part of the show Cancer and Complementary Therapies

A new version of the humble potato may protect thousands of people each year by giving people a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B is a virus that infects millions of people annually, and nearly one million people die worldwide from liver problems caused by the virus. It doesn't kill many people in the UK because there are safe and effective vaccines. But in the developing world, vaccines that could be given by mouth, such as the vaccine for polio, would be much more effective as there would be no need for needles and keeping the vaccine cold. While digging around for a method to create an edible hepatitis vaccine, scientists unearthed the idea of using potatoes. The genetically engineered potatoes carry a gene that makes part of the hepatitis B virus. When people fed with the vaccine-filled spuds were compared with those given normal spuds, they found that about 60% of people who ate their engineered spuds had an immune reaction against hepatitis. An immune response to hepatitis B is measured by the number of antibodies in the blood, which are made when the body senses an alien protein. Although this needs more work and testing, it certainly looks like potatoes might be a promising way to deliver vaccines in the future.

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