RICHLAND, Wash. - Plants have been used in medical treatments throughout human history, but researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are taking a new approach to plants as pharmaceutical components. They are genetically modifying plants to produce human blood proteins and tissue growth agents.
These blood-clotting agents could lead to safer and less expensive treatments for hemophiliacs and an alternative way of sealing wounds. Pacific Northwest researchers have produced two blood factors that are used to treat most patients with blood clotting disorders.
These factors currently are made from human blood plasma or by painstakingly cultivating mammalian cells. But treatments derived from human or animal components can be risky. For instance, about 80 percent of hemophiliacs over the age of 10 were infected with HIV from receiving blood products prior to the development of screening programs.
Even with screening programs some viral products such as HIV, Epstein-Barr, Hepatitis B and C and even the flu, can be transferred in blood products. Using plants to produce human blood proteins eliminates the possibility of transmitting disease along with lifesaving treatments.
"In addition to the obvious health benefits, we expect the cost of synthesizing blood factors in transgenic or genetically modified plants to be 10 times cheaper than current methods," said Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer at Pacific Northwest. "And, unlike human blood donors or mammalian cells, plants provide a stable production source and yield much higher amounts of the desired blood factors."
Using genetic engineering technology, Pacific Northwest researchers are transplanting applicable human genes into tobacco plants and producing blood factors. Patents are pending on the production and composition of plant-derived human blood coagulation factors. Pacific Northwest researchers have produced coagulation factor VIII, which is critical to hemophilia therapies, as well as factor XIII and a substance called thrombin which are clotting enzymes that aid in healing wounds and offer an alternative to sutures and other surgical sealants.
Pacific Northwest has funded this research to date but is interested in teaming with pharmaceutical partners to commercialize the blood factor technology and other plant-based pharmaceutical products.
Commercialization manager Daniel Anderson says it likely will be several years before the blood products will be available for humans. Anderson notes Pacific Northwest researchers currently are using a similar technique to grow valuable industrial enzymes in non-edible portions of common agricultural crops.
They have developed a method to get the desired proteins to express or grow in specific areas of a plant, which can result in two profitable crops in one plant - for instance, potatoes could produce food and cellulases, which are used to produce ethanol. See related news release at http://www.pnl.gov/news/news.htm.
Business inquiries on this or other PNNL technologies should be directed to 1-888-375-PNNL or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pacific Northwest is one of DOE's nine multiprogram national laboratories and conducts research in the fields of environment, energy, health sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated Pacific Northwest for DOE since 1965.
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