Genetically Modified Lettuce May Confer Diabetes Cure: $20 Million Required for Human Trial

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“This is so revolutionary that when it happens, it will indeed change the world.”Dr. Henry Daniell

Dr. Henry Daniell, PhD – a molecular biologist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando (UCF) – dedicated many years to developing a technology for inserting the human insulin gene into the genomes of plants such as lettuce and tobacco. This accomplished, he and his research team fed a genetically engineered lettuce to diabetic model mice, and cured them of diabetes, as reported in July 2007.*

Helped by bacteria in the gut, the lettuce-delivered human insulin genes quickly ‘teach’ the gut’s immune cells to accept rather than attack them – permanently quelling the autoimmune response that is type 1 diabetes in a matter of weeks. (To view Dr. Daniel’s brief explanation of the process in a fascinating video produced at the Daniell Lab for Molecular Biotechnology Research, click here.)

Plans for human trials of this ‘biopharmaceutical’, which could ultimately cost mere pennies per dose, have drawn thousands of hopeful volunteers, but $20 million in requisite funding must be secured just to start, according to a recent news report.**

Following is a 2007 UCF news release on Dr. Daniell’s animal model trial.

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Capsules of insulin produced in genetically modified lettuce could hold the key to restoring the body’s ability to produce insulin and help millions of Americans who suffer from insulin-dependent diabetes, according to University of Central Florida biomedical researchers.

Professor Henry Daniell’s research team genetically engineered tobacco plants with the insulin gene and then administered freeze-dried plant cells to five-week-old diabetic mice as a powder for eight weeks. By the end of the study, the diabetic mice had normal blood and urine sugar levels, and their cells were producing normal levels of insulin.

Those results and prior research indicate that insulin capsules could someday be used to prevent diabetes before symptoms appear and treat the disease in its later stages, Daniell said. He has since proposed using lettuce instead of tobacco to produce the insulin because that crop can be produced cheaply and avoids the negative stigma associated with tobacco.

The National Institutes of Health provided $2 million to fund the UCF study. The findings are reported in the July issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Insulin-dependent, or Type 1, diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin and insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.

Insulin typically is given through shots and not pills so the hormone can go straight into the bloodstream. In Daniell’s method, plant cell walls made of cellulose initially prevent insulin from degrading. When the plant cells containing insulin reach the intestine, bacteria living there begin to slowly break down the cell walls and gradually release insulin into the bloodstream.

“Currently, the only relief for diabetes is a momentary relief,” Daniell said. “Diabetics still have to monitor their blood and urine sugar levels. They have to inject themselves with insulin several times a day. Having a permanent solution for this, I’m sure, would be pretty exciting.”

Though produced in lettuce, the insulin would be delivered to human patients as a powder in capsules because the dosage must be controlled carefully.

If human trials are successful, the impact of Daniell’s research could affect millions of diabetics worldwide and dramatically reduce the costs of fighting a disease that can lead to heart and kidney diseases and blindness.

About 20.8 million children and adults in the United States, or about 7 percent of the population, have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The number of Americans with diabetes is projected to double by 2025, according to a study released in June 2007 by the National Changing Diabetes Program during a congressional briefing. That study by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. also reported that one of every eight federal health care dollars – $79.7 billion out of $645 billion – is spent on treating people with diabetes.

“Diabetes is a big health and financial burden in the United States and in the rest of the world,” Daniell said. “This study would facilitate a dramatic change because so far there is no medicine that will cure insulin-dependent diabetes.”

Daniell’s method of growing insulin in plants is similar to what he used for an earlier study to produce anthrax vaccine in tobacco. In the earlier study, which also involved mice, Daniell showed and the National Institutes of Health confirmed that enough safe anthrax vaccine to inoculate everyone in the United States could be grown inexpensively in only one acre of tobacco plants.
* “Expression of cholera toxin B-proinsulin fusion protein in lettuce and tobacco chloroplasts – oral administration protects against development of insulitis in non-obese diabetic mice,” Biotechnology Journal, Jul 2007 –
full text available free.

** As of December 2008, according to a Florida Business News report, “Daniell’s research has been supported by a $2-million National Institutes of Health grant and limited funding from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. But Daniell hasn’t been able to raise the $20 million needed for the next step, phase 1 human trials. “We need to find a partner,” he says, adding that a pharmaceutical company, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or the American Diabetes Research Foundation would be ideal.” (“Plant Therapy for Diabetes Patients – Green Genes,” Barbara Miracle, 12-01-08,

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease.


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One thought on “Genetically Modified Lettuce May Confer Diabetes Cure: $20 Million Required for Human Trial”

  1. jeanfromwales says:

    And can we also expect the lettuce to be available to people with Alzheimers, I wonder, in view of the latest information available about Alz being the third type of Diabetes.

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