Fighting Deadly Disease, With Grains of Rice

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

TOKYO — Yoshikazu Yuki and other researchers at the University of Tokyo are bioengineering rice in a bid to turn it into an easy and low-cost storage and delivery medium for drugs to combat common infectious and contagious illnesses.

The immediate target is to develop new treatments against cholera and rotavirus, two causes of severe and often fatal diarrhea. Cholera now kills as many as 120,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization, while rotavirus is estimated by the organization to kill about 500,000 children a year under age 5, amounting to about 5 percent of all child deaths worldwide.

Vaccines or antibodies for both exist but require refrigerated storage, Mr. Yuki, an assistant professor of mucosal immunology, said in an interview. Bioengineering vaccines or antibodies into rice would allow them to be stockpiled easily, without the cost of cold storage, for up to three years at room temperature, he said. The rice could be ingested orally, ground into a paste and drunk, delivering the antibodies to the intestine, he said.

Mr. Yuki said his team figured out how to make a cholera vaccine using rice in 2007, and a rotavirus antibody last year.

Source: New York Times (link opens in a new window)

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