Our Bold Idea

“ASU has assembled some of world’s greatest research expertise in plant-based vaccines and therapeutics, and now we want to apply that knowledge to address the leading mosquito-borne health threat in the U.S.,” said Qiang “Shawn” Chen. Chen is a researcher
at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and a professor in the Polytechnic
Campus’ College of Technology and Innovation. He is the first to demonstrate a
plant-derived treatment to successfully combat West Nile virus after exposure
and infection.

Our Inspiration

West Nile virus has made alarming inroads in North America, causing disease
outbreaks throughout the U.S., as well as in areas of Canada, Mexico, the
Caribbean and South America. Elderly individuals and those with depressed
immunity are particularly vulnerable to West Nile, a mosquito-borne illness which
can cause a potentially lethal inflammation of the brain. “We have made a new
therapeutic made from tobacco plants has been shown to arrest West Nile virus
infection,” said Chen. “First, we wanted to show proof-of-concept, demonstrating
that plant-made antibodies can work as effective post-exposure therapeutics.
Secondly, we’ve sought to develop a therapeutic which can be made inexpensively
so that the health care systems in developing countries can afford it.”

Our Impact

While the group’s focus has been on West Nile Virus, Chen believes the plantbased
antibody approach could provide highly effective, cost efficient therapeutics
for other diseases, including related flavivirus infections such as dengue fever and
Japanese encephalitis, if the successes in mice can be replicated in humans. Chen
is now working on bifunctional antibodies, capable of binding with virus particles
as well as attaching to receptors in the brain, allowing the antibody to migrate past
the blood brain threshold. If successful, the technique may allow treatment of other,
currently intractable infectious and neurological diseases. “If we can find a way to
deliver therapeutics of this sort into the brain it will be really significant,” said Chen.



Qiang (Shawn) Chen, PhD
Associate Professor
Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology