Can tomatoes provide a cure for Alzheimer’s?

Posted by Isobel Drake on 9th July 2008

The humble tomato could be a suitable carrier for an oral vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease, according to HyunSoon Kim from the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB) in Korea and colleagues from Digital Biotech Inc. and the Department of Biological Science at Wonkwang University.

Although their research, just published online in Springer’s journal Biotechnology Letters, is still in the early stages, it is a promising first step towards finding an edible vaccine against the neurodegenerative disease.

The accumulation of beta-amyloid is considered to be a primary reason for the onset of the disease and reduction of accumulation could prevent or slow onset of the disease.

Kim and colleagues’ aim was to develop a plant-derived vaccine against Alzheimer’s disease because beta-amyloid is toxic to animal cells. Tomatoes were considered an attractive candidate as a vaccine carrier because they can be eaten without heat treatment, which reduces the risk of destroying the immune stimulation potential of the foreign protein.

The authors reported that their initial study, on mice, could lead to positive steps toward greater understanding and potential prevention of Alzheimer’s. “Although we did not reveal a reduction of existing plaques in the brain of mice challenged with tomato-derived beta-amyloid…this study represents a unique approach in which transgenic plants expressing beta-amyloid protein are used to produce a vaccine,” they concluded.

The research team is currently looking at strategies to increase the potency of the tomato-based vaccine, because fresh tomatoes contain only 0.7% protein and levels of foreign protein are even lower.

The considerable strengthening of global expertise into diseases and potential food prevention is likely to lead to substantial opportunities for members of the food industry in the coming years. Already the growth of sales of products with beneficial acids and bacteria, such as Omega 3 and probiotics, indicates the strength of the market for functional food.