Tobacco as Medicine?

Last week we published an article about how the CDC says too many people are still smoking. The federal government has a Healthy People 2010 goal of reducing adult smoking rates to 12 percent or less by 2010. Of the 50 states, only Utah has thus far achieved that goal. 

We thought we’d counterpoint that article by writing about a recent study in which scientists succeeded in using genetically modified tobacco plants to produce medicines for several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including diabetes. The research was published in the open access journal BMC Biotechnology.

A large team of scientists from several European research organizations has participated in the study as part of the Pharma-Planta project. The scientists developed transgenic tobacco plants that could produce a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine. 

The researchers found that tobacco plants were able to process both forms of the cytokine correctly. This means, according to a press release from BioMed Central, that it might be possible to use tobacco leaves without lengthy extraction and purification processes. The next step will be to feed the plants to mice with autoimmune diseases to find out how effective they are. The researchers are anxious to use the plants to see whether repeated small doses could help prevent type 1 diabetes, in combination with other auto-antigens associated with the disease. 

The leader of the research team, Professor Mario Pezzotti at the University of Verona, said in the press release, “Transgenic plants are attractive systems for the production of therapeutic proteins because they offer the possibility of large-scale production at low cost, and they have low maintenance requirements. The fact that plants can be eaten, which delivers the drug where it is needed and thus avoids lengthy purification procedures, is another plus compared with traditional drug synthesis.”

Source: BioMed Central 

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