Scientists Grow Human Blood Protein in Rice

By Veronique Greenwood | November 1, 2011 12:34 pm

Human serum albumin is used in everything from vaccines to cell culture.

Human blood is in demand these days. Donor blood is required for transfusions, of course, but it also contains human serum albumin, a blood protein used to treat shock, severe burns, and liver injuries that also shows up in vaccines and in cell culture materials. Worldwide, we use about 500 tons of human serum albumin (abbreviated HSA) a year.

Shortages of the protein and the potential for contamination by blood-borne viruses have encouraged scientists to look beyond donor blood for sources. One promising approach, inserting the gene for HSA into plants and then harvesting the resulting protein, has always yielded too little for the method to make sense financially, but a new paper details a way to get around that: get the plant to make HSA in its seeds, which are lean, mean protein-concentrating machines. HSA made up 10% of the soluble protein in the rice seeds produced by the research team, one of the highest yields on record from a transgenic plant. And when the team put it through its chemical paces, it worked exactly like normal, human-grown HSA, indicating that its sojourn in the plant world hadn’t impaired its usefulness. If all goes as planned, the team will be testing rice-grown HSA in people in clinical trials in the next two years, with an eye towards supplanting donor blood as a source.

[via Nature News]

Image courtesy of Borislav Mitel / Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Xenobio

    There’s a competitor in the USA called Invitria which is selling straight recombinant HSA (also from rice but I’m not sure whether that’s plants or tissue culture) as well as animal-origin free tissue culture media containing it. I only heard about them because they gave my colleague samples of different media formulations to try out. Haven’t heard back from him yet as to how good/bad they were though =)

  • Zbird

    TruBlood here we come 😉

  • MedBioEnt

    Xenobio is correct. In fact, if you dig a little, it is not hard to tell from the Invitra web site that they use rice grains as their production system for producing HSA. A system that is eerily similar to the one described in the article above. A little more digging shows that the principal investigator from the Chinese team mentioned in the article used to work for Invitra.

    The paper referenced in the article above was just published online by PNAS…a very prestigious journal. The corresponding author on that paper is Daichang Yang. If you look at his past publications, you’ll see that he used to work for Applied Phytologics, Inc, in Sacramento, CA…..This company is the progenitor of Invitra. In fact, while working at Invitra’s progenitor, Dr. Yang was the principal author on a paper that talks about using the REB transcriptional factor to increase production of recombinant protein in rice grains!

    Hmmmm. Cases like this will do little to quell the reputation China has for stealing intellectual property.


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