Australia Scientists
Plan To Put Measles
Vaccine In GM Food
By Wendy Pugh

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian scientists are researching putting a measles gene into genetically modified food to provide an alternative to traditional vaccination against the virus.
Alfred Hospital infectious disease unit director Stephen Wesselingh said a research team had successfully created measles modified tobacco and was now putting the gene into lettuce.
``We started with tobacco just because it is very easy to work with and grows quickly, and we mashed up the leaves and fed them to mice. Now we are moving into lettuce and rice,'' he told Reuters.
``We have been working on it for the past two or three years and we have been getting positive results for the last six months or so.''
Wesselingh said the research by the Alfred team and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) would provide a cheaper vaccine, that avoided using needles and which didn't need to be kept at cold temperatures.
``That is not a problem in Australia, but in the countries where measles is a big problem, in Africa etc, keeping the vaccine cold can sometimes be a major difficulty,'' he said.
The researchers are looking to use crops where existing genetically modified organism research has already been successfully conducted.
Wesselingh said in the tobacco experiments the H protein of the measles virus was placed in the plant.
``The plant is then making all its normal leaves and things, but it is also making this extra protein,'' he said.
``When we feed the leaves of that plant to mice, those mice then develop antibodies against the H protein, which is part of the measles virus so those antibodies then protect against measles as well.''
Rice Offers Potential
Wesselingh said rice offered great potential as the measles vaccination could be used in rice flour milk produced for children who are not covered by the current measles vaccination.
Release of measles modified food was still a ``long way down the track,'' he said, with trials in people likely to start sometime in the next five years.
Wesselingh said the modified food would be treated as a medical product and would not be available for mass consumption.
``These crops wouldn't be generally released. You would make them in special areas and then distribute them in the same way you would distribute other vaccines,'' he said. ``I think that would allay a lot of the GM-type fears.''
Similar research has also been conducted in the United States for hepatitis B and cholera and the Melbourne-based team is starting to look at genetic modification for the HIV virus, which can lead to AIDS.
Wesselingh said the Melbourne research had focused on measles as it was still a major health problem in the developing world.
``About a million children still die of measles each year and most of those are under the age of one and the current vaccine doesn't work in very young children,'' he said.
``We felt that an oral vaccine that could work in very young children might be a way to arrest that problem.''


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