In lab, drug-on-the-cob fights rare disease

Biologists in Canada have made a medical enzyme using genetically-engineered corn, a feat that could one day slash the cost of treating a life-threatening inherited disease, a journal reported on Tuesday.

Inserting a section of into maize seed caused them to make alpha-L-iduronidase in the endosperm, a nutritive tissue in the .

Alpha-L-iduronidase breaks down and is deficient in people with mucopolysaccheridosis I (MPS 1).

This is a so-called lysosomal storage disorder, in which sugary debris builds up in cells, damaging tissue in the heart, eyes, skeleton and brain.

Without replacement enzymes, sufferers of MPS 1 often die in childhood.

Until now, the therapy has been produced by coaxing cultures of cells taken from the ovaries of Chinese hamsters, and is hugely expensive.

The existing drug for MPS 1, laronidase (marketed as Aldurazyme) costs around $300,000 annually for children and $1 million for adults.

The research, led by Allison Kermode at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The results amount to "" for making the enzyme in laboratory conditions, the team say.

Further work would be needed to scale up volume, but this should not be too much of a problem and conventional techniques could be used, they add.

Severe MPS I occurs in approximately in one in 100,000 newborns, according to the website Genetics Home Reference, which is supported by the US .

A milder form, called attenuated MPS I, occurs in about one in 500,000 births.

Related Stories

Report: U.S. broadband speed outdated

date Jun 26, 2007

So-called high-speed Internet broadband connection speeds are "pathetic" compared with other industrialized nations, a communications union report claimed.

Recommended for you

Amid bird flu outbreak, turkey farmers increase security

date 11 hours ago

Poultry producers in the nation's top turkey state are taking extra steps to protect their flocks after a devastating strain of bird flu was confirmed at two Minnesota farms in as many days last week, a disease that had already ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.