Tobacco Might Help Treat Diabetes And Other Diseases

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Scientists have found a way to use tobacco to help prevent and treat diabetes and perhaps other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Scientists from Europe and South Africa have learned how to grow genetically modified tobacco plants capable of producing interleukin-10 (IL-10), a powerful agent that blocks inflammation and regulates immunity.

The study, part of the Pharma-Planta project, seeks ways to use plants for delivery of medicines. Manufacturing drugs from genetically modified plants should lead to safe and inexpensive ways to deliver drugs to humans, including vaccines. The most recent development from the Pharma-Planta project is medicine taken by eating tobacco leaves, which may help treat diabetes and other diseases that result from auto-immunity.

The current researchers discovered that tobacco leaves could successfully produce and hold onto biologically active interleukin-10. The scientists hope that tobacco might be useful for humans. Rather than taking a pill, the medicine would be delivered by chewing the genetically modified tobacco leaf that contains the drug, making global delivery of medications feasible, providing better access of pharmaceuticals to underdeveloped nations.

The scientists believe they can use tobacco leaves to treat autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases using interleukin-10 in tobacco leaves, while keeping down costs associated with drug manufacturing.


Study author, Mario Pezzotti at the University of Verona says, "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 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."

The scientists use several types of technology to transfer genes to plants. The consortium of scientists seeks to improve global health by making use of plant biotechnology. Their goal is to produce safer drugs at lower cost, improving access to pharmaceuticals worldwide.

The scientists plan to move forward with mice studies to see if tobacco leaves, genetically modified to produce interleukin-10, can help treat diabetes and other inflammatory diseases in humans.