Women In STEM-Indu Rupassara

By Paul Wood
The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Paul Wood chats with INDU RUPASSARA, CEO of FruitVaccine Inc., a start-up company at the University of Illinois Research Park that has developed a fruit-based edible vaccine for the human respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV).

Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Why this need?

Answer: hRSV infects 100 percent of the global population, causing flu-like symptoms, especially affecting the lower respiratory system such as the lungs. The symptoms can be severe in infants, the elderly, and in immune-suppressed groups such as those who have chronic lung/heart diseases/disorders, and those undergoing certain medical treatments, like chemotherapy.

I joined Dennis [her partner at FruitVaccine] in 2011, and we both have a common interest in developing natural food-based vaccines, especially for hRSV. Dennis’s wife Kathy is a long-term pediatrician at Carle Foundation Hospital. We all see the dire need for a vaccine against hRSV.

Tell us about the development of an edible orally-administered fruit-based vaccine. Also, what plants do you use?

Answer: We are developing an orally-administered (fruit-based) vaccine against hRSV, which can be eaten. For infants, a vaccine composed of oral-drops is being developed. There is no vaccine against hRSV in the market. A vaccine would prevent the disease or at least lessen the time a person spends recovering from hRSV disease.

Our planned orally-delivered vaccine provides a low cost, environmentally-friendly solution to prevent this disease. We get immunized against hRSV when we eat a few cherry-tomato fruits of these plants. No vaccine for RSV disease in humans is available in the market, and no fruit-based edible vaccine for any disease exists at present.

Question: How will you achieve this before everyone else?

Answer: Our vaccine already is effective in mice, based on our research so far. As a group, we are a competitive research team (currently nine members, and expanding) of experienced research biologists with the background and knowledge for vaccine research. We use the latest state-of-the-art technologies in our vaccine research, and employ the single, most potent protein of the virus, not the whole virus. We will test the vaccine for its usefulness by using the cotton rat, an animal which is highly susceptible to RSV disease, before testing our vaccine in humans. An edible fruit-based vaccine will have no toxicities, side-effects or pain, as potentially associated with injectable vaccines.

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