Tobacco plants may harbour diabetes cure

WASHINGTON - While tobacco has always been attributed to devastating effects on health, an international team of researchers has found a rather healthy side of tobacco plants.

The team led by Professor Mario Pezzotti at the University of Verona have genetically modified tobacco plants to produce medicines for several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including diabetes.

During the study, the scientists set out to create transgenic tobacco plants that would produce biologically active interleukin-10 (IL-10), a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine.

They tried two different versions of IL-10 (one from a virus, one from the mouse) and generated plants in which this protein was targeted to three different compartments within the cell, to see which would work most effectively.

The researchers found that tobacco plants were able to process both forms of IL-10 correctly, producing the active cytokine at such high enough levels 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.

“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,” said Pezzotti.

“The fact that they can be eaten, which delivers the drug where it is needed, thus avoiding lengthy purification procedures, is another plus compared with traditional drug synthesis,” he added.

The research team will conduct further studies to determine whether repeated small doses could help prevent type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM), in combination with other auto-antigens associated with the disease.

The research has been published in the open access journal BMC Biotechnology. (ANI)

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