LISTEN: ASU researcher says he’s developed tobacco-based Zika virus vaccine
PHOENIX — A researcher at Arizona State University said Thursday that he has developed a tobacco plant-based vaccine for Zika virus.
Qiang Chen said the creation of the vaccine was a fairly simple process.
“I use a small part of DNA from the Zika protein [then] I put that DNA into tobacco plants,” he said. “That piece of unique DNA will direct the production of the vaccine protein.”
Once enough vaccine material is produced, it is removed from the leaf.
Chen said the tobacco-based vaccine has benefits over traditional vaccines.
“Most vaccines are based on either DNA or killed full viruses,” he said. “[For example], if you use killed virus as a vaccine – if you have an accident, potentially, you can inoculate live virus into people.”
Another issue with full-copy DNA vaccination production for Zika is called the enhancement response. Chen said the virus is very genetically similar to dengue fever.
Because it is so similar, in certain circumstances, a full-virus replica of Zika could not only stimulate an immune response for that virus, but also an immune response for dengue fever.
Chen said he chose to develop the vaccine in tobacco plants because it is simple to direct foreign proteins into them.
“Tobacco plants can grow very fast, very easily,” he said. “[They] produce a lot of leaves for vaccine production. Tobacco plants also produce a lot of seeds, so if you want to scale up production you can quickly get a large number of seeds.”
Chen’s vaccine has been successfully tested in mice and monkeys, meaning his team can apply for human clinical trials through the Food and Drug Administration.
The Centers for Disease Control said Zika – spread by infected mosquitoes – can cause underdevelopment of human infants’ heads, or microcephaly, before they’re born.