Research conducted by the Laboratory of Nematology is part of the research prgram of the Graduate School Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS) and the C.T. de Wit Graduate School for Production Ecology & Resource Conservation (PE&RC)
Helminths are parasitic worms that can cause serious damage to host tissues by secretion of complex proteins.
Helminths infect both humans and animals and are mostly active in tropical regions and developing countries where sanitation is poor.
Next to serious problems like liver damage and blindness, Helminths can also cause a huge economic damage by infecting livestock.
Due to resistance development of these parasitic worms to currently available drugs, development of alternative drugs is hardly needed.
In recent years vaccination by antigens directly isolated from worms has been shown to be an effective way to protect some animals from serious illnesses. However since a great amount of animals need to be infected, producing vaccines in this way is known as unsustainable for large scale production.
A solution to classic vaccine production problem is the production of recombinant vaccines in heterologous expression systems that can mimic the construction of antigens with their native glycan structures. Glycan modifications on antigens are important, since they play a role in targeting receptors and cells of the immune system and thereby can influence the efficiency of the recombinant vaccine.
Plants such as Nicotiana benthamiana seem to have the capability to reconstruct the complex glycan structures as they are produced by parasitic worms and therefor they became a great tool for research and investigation of recombinant vaccine production in recent years.
The project that I am working on, aims to use a plant-based expression system to produce a well-defined vaccine. Therefore we produce different proteins as vaccine candidates in which we investigate their glycan structures and try to modify this by enzymatic reactions to a properly working vaccine protein for animals.
I am completely new to this subject and very interested to learn more about our plant expression system and complex glycan structures.