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Posted: July 15, 2008

Will 'Designer Tomatoes' Deliver Alzheimer's Vaccine?

Imagine taking an edible Alzheimer’s vaccine by eating raw tomatoes. Korean scientists have, and they’ve actually tested the concept – with some success – on mice.

HyunSoon Kim, from the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology in Korea, and colleagues from Digital Biotech Inc. and the Department of Biological Science at Wonkwang University came up with the concept and genetically fortified tomatoes to create an oral vaccine for their test.

The resulting “designer tomatoes” fired up the immune system to tackle the fatal mind-robbing disease in test mice, according the research findings published in the journal Biotechnology Letters.

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Kim explained that the process works by attacking the toxic beta-amyloid protein that is believed to destroy vital connections between brain cells, causing Alzheimer's.

To genetically create the vaccine, the Korean research team combined the gene behind the beta-amyloid protein with the tomato's genetic code. They then fed 15-month-old mice the fortified tomatoes once a week for three weeks.

As a result, blood samples taken from the mice revealed the tomatoes triggered their immune systems to release disease-fighting antibodies, although the levels of plaques in the brain were not reduced.

Kim and his colleagues noted that the tomato was a good way of getting a vaccine into the body because it was enjoyable to eat and could be eaten raw. The vaccine could be destroyed if the tomatoes were cooked, they added.

The authors concluded in their article: “Although we did not reveal a reduction of existing plaques in the brain of mice challenged with tomato-derived beta-amyloid . . . this study represents a unique approach in which transgenic plants expressing beta-amyloid protein are used to produce a vaccine.”

The researchers are now working to find strategies to boost the production of protein in the tomato plants.   Fresh tomatoes contain only 0.7 % protein and the level of foreign protein is even lower.

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