Saturday, 4 June 2011

Indian government stops research on oral indigenous anti-rabies vaccine because it does not want to hurt dogs

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, May 31: Edible (oral) anti rabies vaccine could have become a reality bringing down the number of human deaths due to rabies in the country had the Central government not refused clinical trials on dogs.
Research work on the anti rabies vaccine derived from plants like musk melon and tobacco came to an abrupt halt as the Centre did not want to hurt dogs by subjecting them to trials. Plant-derived vaccine was
developed by the neurovirology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences. It could also have become an edible vaccine to fight rabies, as the researchers had planned vaccine for
both intra-muscular and oral routes.
India has the highest number of rabies deaths with about 25000 people succumbing to the virus. With sure shot death once rabies develops, the only way to prevent rabies is through vaccination. Since the
vaccine is based on plant, there would be no shortage of anti rabies vaccine.
"We have to shelve down the project due to lack of clearances. We could not conduct tests on dogs," a researcher associated with the project told this correspondent. NIMHANS is also a coordination centre
of the World Health Organisation for rabies studies and prevention.
The plant-derived vaccine was tested on mice with successful results, but before it could be used on human beings the preventive medicine had to be tested on dogs. In the absence of ethical clearances, the vaccine could not be tested on canines and the project was shelved. Almost a decade has passed since the trials on mice were conducted, but the need for indigenous anti rabies vaccine now gains significance as there are allegations of shortage of vaccine in government hospitals, and spurt in the number of dog bite cases. Though the vaccine is available in private hospitals, the high cost makes it beyond the reach of a vast section of society.
Unlike cell culture and tissue culture vaccines, which are injectible, the plant-derived vaccine can also be consumed orally. Since these plants are harmless, they can be genetically engineered to produce
vaccine-carrying tissue, which once consumed prevents rabies.
The indigenous anti rabies vaccine would have brought down the cost of vaccination to a great extent, making it within the reach of the common man. Moreover, since it can be edible, the pain associated with needles could have been reduced. Moreover, it does not require refrigeration and can be stored under room temperature.

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Syed Akbar in an island in river Godavari with Papikonda hills in the background

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Syed Akbar at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity