A team of researchers led by Allison Kermode have taken a big step forward to one day being able to grow medicines in plants instead of factories.

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Towards developing a plant-based enzyme replacement therapy

September 19, 2012
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Research led by SFU biologist Allison Kermode and an international team of scientists from SFU, Griffith University and Macquarie University in Australia, UBC, and the Washington University School of Medicine have made a potential step forward in developing a plant-based enzyme replacement treatment for rare genetic diseases.

Published online in Nature Communications on September 18th, the study reports an mRNA-based strategy that enables the therapeutic protein, called alpha-L-iduronidase, to be generated within a transgenic corn plant. Quoted in a Reuter's article on the finding, George Lomonossoff of Britain's John Innes Centre says that the strategy is "an important addition to the toolkit for producing pharmaceuticals in plants."

SFU researchers involved in this study include Xu He, a research associate in the Kermode lab, as well as postdoctoral fellow Tracey Gloster and Professor and Canada Research Chair David Vocadlo from the Department of Chemistry.

Further research and clinical trials would be needed before the potential therapeutic could be marketable, but the GM technology is an important first step towards one day being able to provide a low-cost, effective, and safe alternative to factory-made drugs. In Canada, the use of plants for molecular farming is currently restricted to confined field trials while the government investigates policy options for commercial use.

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