Gates Foundation gives grant for polio vaccine in pill form

A University of Central Florida scientist recently received a two year, $761,302 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a vaccine for polio in pill form.

Henry Daniell, a microbiology professor, has spent the last 10 years developing vaccines inside the leaves of genetically engineered lettuce. After the lettuce is grown, it is freeze-dried, then ground up and put into pill form. The pills are used to “smuggle” the vaccinations into the body, according to the L.A. Times.

Daniell’s method of creating vaccines is cheaper than those of traditional vaccines and his pills have a longer shelf-life. The method appeals to the Gates Foundation, which is constantly seeking ways to halt the spread of disease throughout the world.

"If he is successful with this, it's going to be enormous," John Hitt, UCF's president, said, according to the L.A. Times. "You'll suddenly have a much cheaper model of creating vaccines. The old model is 50 to 100 years old. And Dr. Daniell's method is more effective."

The new method does not use live or killed viruses to make the vaccine. Instead, genes from the virus are spliced directly into the lettuce leaves to create a genetically engineered vegetable. When the patient takes the pill, the virus protein stimulates the immune system without the danger of using the virus itself.

Daniell has tested the method with some success on bubonic plague, cholera and bioterrorist agents such as anthrax. The Gates Foundation has targeted polio for the grant because of its reemergence, especially in the developing world.

The pills produced by Daniell’s lab require no refrigeration and can be stored for up to one year. Unlike traditional vaccines, the pill does not require a health professional to deliver a shot, the L.A. Times reports.

In exchange for backing his work, the Gates Foundation has asked Daniell to promise to provide global access to the technology.

"This means they would be accessible to all people and all countries, even the poorest and most remote," Daniell said, according to the L.A. Times. "That's why I am so grateful for the opportunity to pursue this work."