Lucas Arzola, Ph.D. ’12 has developed a faster way to make vaccines using tobacco plants.
A group of UC Davis students is working to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars by advancing vaccine development.
Arzola, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, is leading an interdisciplinary team of fellow student researchers in developing a way to use tobacco plants to replace conventional methods of vaccine production. Current methods utilize chicken eggs and cell cultures, which are costly and time consuming. The new method reduces vaccine development time from six months to six weeks.
“Our technology aims to replace the costly part of these biotech facilities with leaves from tobacco plants that require only sunlight, water and soil to grow,” Arzola said. “We can harness a plant’s natural ability to produce proteins and make them produce our vaccine of interest within their leaves.”
For their vaccine idea, Arzola and his team won the 2010 UC Davis Big Bang! Business Plan Competition organized by the Graduate School of Management. The award not only provided the team with a $15,000 grand prize, but also business partnerships that are helping propel this innovative technology toward commercialization. The competition is supported by philanthropic contributions from local corporations and the venture capital community.
Arzola said UC Davis was the perfect place for his team to launch its groundbreaking idea because of the university’s culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration that spurs discovery and innovation.
“It all starts with the research labs at Davis,” said Arzola, who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial biotechnology at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. “UC Davis is a great place to launch this project because of the expertise available in agriculture, engineering, veterinary health and medicine.”