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Scientists develop vaccine against tooth decay

graphic April 29, 1998
Web posted at: 3:36 p.m. EDT (1936 GMT)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (CNN) -- Researchers say they have developed a safe, effective and painless vaccine that could prevent tooth decay by eliminating bacteria from the mouth.

Developed by California-based Planet Biotechnology, and tested at Guy's Hospital in London, the plant-based vaccine is painted on teeth and produces antibodies that prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to teeth and causing cavities.

The vaccine was produced by genetically modifying tobacco plants to carry antibodies to streptococcus mutans, which causes 95 percent of tooth decay.

Volunteers received the tasteless, colorless vaccine twice a week for three weeks for a total of six applications.

"What we showed is that by applying this antibody you can prevent the bacteria that is targeted against -- streptococcus mutans -- from sticking to the teeth," Dr. Julian Ma said.

To conduct the study, researchers first used a mouth rinse to reduce the levels of the bacteria in the volunteers to zero. Then they applied a control, or placebo solution, to some patients and the vaccine to others.

Within two months, the bacteria returned in the mouths of the control group while those who received the vaccine were protected for up to four months.

Ma said this is the first plant-derived vaccine from genetically modified plants to ever go into human clinical trials.

"We have now found a way of using plants to produce this vaccine safely and in large quantities. It would not be possible otherwise," he said.

Another vaccine, derived from mice, has proved successful in fighting bacteria, but it is so difficult and expensive to produce it has not been developed for consumer use.

Planet Biotechnology is planning to conduct a larger study this summer with about 60 patients.

The company hopes they can roll out a consumer product in 2001 or 2002.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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