In stunning new science, a research team at the University of Lleida, Spain and the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona have developed a variety of transgenic rice that can be used to produce a topical medication to prevent HIV infection.
The idea behind this type of research is that these modified plants are essentially a delivery mechanism for medical compounds. Once the initial investment to develop the GE variety is achieved, costs to scale-up and produce useful medication are relatively low. Plus, medications produced this way may require less processing and manufacturing – the plant does that work for you.
In this case, the transgenic rice produces three key proteins that neutralizes HIV in the body by binding to receptors on the virus, blocking them from interacting with a patient’s cells and preventing infection (Fernández, 2018). The medication is administered by producing a simple topical cream from the seed of the modified rice plants. This cream is than applied to the skin, which absorbs the target proteins.
One of the most interesting developments seemed to surprise the researchers (it’s even in the title of the PNAS article about the study – “Unexpected synergistic HIV neutralization by a triple microbicide produced in rice endosperm”). They observed that the HIV proteins produced by the transgenic rice were actually even more effective than those produced using standard methods, yet another example of an unintended consequence, if a positive one for once.
Clara Rodríguez Fernández, “This Transgenic Rice Could Prevent HIV Infections,” Lab Biotech Europe, July 30, 2017
Evangelia Vamvaka, Gemma Farré, Luis M. Molinos-Albert, Abbey Evans, Anna Canela-Xandri, Richard M. Twyman, Jorge Carrillo, Raziel A. Ordóñez, Robin J. Shattock, Barry R. O’Keefe, Bonaventura Clotet, Julian Blanco, Gurdev S. Khush, Paul Christou, Teresa Capell, “Unexpected synergistic HIV neutralization by a triple microbicide produced in rice endosperm,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published Online Jul 2018.