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Plants are new weapon in fight against Dengue

Sandy Loh article image

Scientists have discovered a way to create disease fighting proteins from tobacco plants which could lead to the development of a vaccine for Dengue Fever.

Currently, there is no promising treatment for Dengue Fever, a disease that infects almost 400 million people worldwide every year and is Malaysia’s most prevalent infectious disease. Carried by Aedes mosquitos, the virus causes severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, fever and rash and in some cases can be serious or life threatening.

A team of scientists from the University of Nottingham Malaysia are working on a project to create a plant-based vaccine, which if successful would provide a safe and cost effective way to prevent this disease.

Moving closer to an oral vaccine

Professor Sandy Loh is leading the research and says: “Vaccines are created from proteins that can be produced in many different systems and research usually focuses on mammalian cell, bacterial cell or fungus. Using plants for this process is a new platform to emerge that has the potential to provide an edible based vaccine that can be used in orally taken medicine. Other than tobacco plants, we are also working on edible plant species such as lettuce which we hope will eventually lead to an oral vaccine in the future.”

“Using plants to develop a vaccine in this way offers many advantages like higher expression, lower production cost, easier distribution as there is no need for trained nurses to provide injections and better safety as there are no animal or human pathogens which increases the biosafety aspect.”

Neutralising the Dengue virus

The project has produced a vaccine antigen (protein) within the plant that neutralises the Dengue virus. The uniqueness of the project is the use of a transient expression process called Agroinfiltration. During this process, a defective plant virus is combined with Agrobacterium in making an expression vector that delivers the Dengue vaccine antigen into the leaf of the tobacco plant. It is then incubated and harvested after a few days that the vaccine antigen can be extracted and purified for use as a vaccine.

The findings of the project have verified that an immune response is created using the plant-based vaccine in an animal model and the antibodies produced can neutralize the Dengue virus. The next stage of the research will involve virus challenge studies to determine the protection efficacy of the plant-based vaccine.

Quick and safe development

As well as Dengue Fever, this technique has also been used to investigate plant based vaccine for Avian Flu and has had similar success. Professor Loh continues; “For developing countries, the development of a cost effective vaccine from plants would have a significant impact as it would mean they can develop their own local vaccines to combat endemic diseases. Providing vaccines in this way would undoubtedly save many lives.”

One of the unique aspects of this research is the speediness at which the vaccines can be created using the agroinfiltration method. Professor Loh explains: “For diseases like flu which can mutate quickly, the speed at which we could potentially develop a vaccine is as rapid as one month, this means specific vaccines can be produced to be ready for any potential pandemic outbreaks.”


More information is available from Professor Sandy Loh on or Josephine DionisappuPR and Communications at the University of Nottingham Malaysia on, +6 (03) 8924 8746 .

Notes to editors:  The University of Nottingham is a Russell Group UK university, providing a British education in Malaysia.  We provide excellent, internationally-recognised qualifications, with all courses taught in English. With five-star ratings for our teaching and research quality we support students to develop valuable transferable skills and a global perspective, and our students have an exceptional graduate employment or further study rate of 90%. Our research improves lives pushing the boundaries of knowledge to impact on our world for the better.   For a truly global University, experience the University of Nottingham Malaysia. Discover our world  

Posted on 28th May 2018

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