Jonas Salk created a vaccine against polio that has been used since 1955; Albert Sabin created another version that has been on the market since 1961. Together, these two vaccines have nearly eliminated polio from the face of the earth.
Emphasis on nearly. Outbreaks have persisted in developing nations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, in part due to limitations of these vaccines. Most recently, in 2013, Israel reported a “silent” outbreak of polio, in which no one got sick but the virus was found in the environment and in vaccinated individuals.
New research led by University of Pennsylvania scientists offers hope for an alternative. Collaborating with researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Penn team developed an oral vaccine booster by manipulating plants to express a protein found in the polio virus. Tests with sera from immunized mice show that the booster confers immunity against all three serotypes of polio.
“Our vaccine research has the potential to provide a timely solution to deal with polio outbreaks around the globe,” said Henry Daniell, professor in the Department of Biochemistry in Penn’s School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the work.