U of S research aims at chewable plants to prevent cavities in teeth

If University of Saskatchewan researcher Ron Geyer gets his way, people in the developing world may one day be able to simply chew their way to better dental health, thanks to therapeutic antibodies in plants.

Geyer, a professor of pathology in the College of Medicine, was awarded $112,000 through Grand Challenges Canada to support the project, one of 22 novel ideas in global health announced today that are being implemented in low- and middle-income countries.

"This project builds on our STAR resource," Geyer said, referring to the Saskatchewan Therapeutic Antibody Resource (STAR), a state-of-the-art lab suite launched by Geyer and used by a research group of about a dozen scientists to develop synthetic antibodies.

"The idea is to create plants engineered to express antibodies that, when you chew them, release these antibodies into the mouth where they inhibit the bacteria that cause tooth decay."

Over the next two years, Geyer and his team will work to create the antibodies, partnering with Prairie Plant Systems Inc. The Saskatoon-based company specializes in plant-made pharmaceuticals and is active in production of potential therapeutics such as these antibodies.

"What we want to do is to use the STAR platform and collaborate with Prairie Plant Systems to see if we can express synthetic antibodies in plants," Geyer said. "The goal is to use the plant with minimal processing, so it can be used with little cost. After all, chewing is something people do in any country."

Geyer explained that the team is also collaborating with colleagues at the University of Michigan to test the antibody-laden plants for effectiveness in mice. If successful, the next step will be to work with colleagues in the Middle East country of Yemen to set up human trials.

While dental cavities can be prevented by brushing, flossing and mouthwash, an estimated 35 per cent of the global population - about 2.8 billion people - suffers from tooth decay and cavities. In a recent study on the global burden of disease, cavities were the most common of 291 aliments, a problem that is particularly acute in developing countries.

Funded by the Government of Canada, Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to "supporting bold ideas with big impact in global health." For more information, visit www.grandchallenges.ca.


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Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations

University of Saskatchewan


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