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Vaccines from tobacco plants: New lab in Owensboro shows how it’s done

May 1st, 2007

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The Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center is in the Owensboro Medical Health System complex.

A new medical laboratory in Owensboro, the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center, opened its doors to the public yesterday to show how plant sources — including tobacco — can be used in the development of new medicines.

The Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center is a part of the Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS). The University of Louisville and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center are partnering with OMHS to seek new, cost-effective ways to develop vaccines and conduct cancer research.

Attendees at the open house for the newly-finished laboratory included UofL President James Ramsey; Director of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, Donald Miller, and OMHS President Jeff Barber.

Keith Davis, program director and plant biotechnologist for the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center, and his colleague Kenneth Palmer are collaborating with the Brown Cancer Center’s Bennett “Ben” Jenson and Shin-je Ghim. Jenson and Ghim are the researchers behind the cervical cancer vaccine that was released last year. The two are now working on a second-generation vaccine that will be grown in tobacco plants.

The tobacco-based process, which is more cost effective than many other methods of vaccine development, involves inserting genes into a virus that grows in the plants or directly into the tobacco genome. The leaves of the plants are then harvested, processed and purified to derive a key vaccine ingredient.

“As a citizen university, the University of Louisville is always pleased to enter into partnerships with others in the commonwealth that benefit citizens both locally and statewide,” Ramsey said.

“Today is a great milestone in this partnership, that we hope will jumpstart a bright future for plant-made pharmaceuticals and their vast potential benefit to cancer research and treatment,” Miller noted.

According to Davis, the center initially will employ three researchers with the goal of attracting up to 10 scientists.

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