This is a picture of tobacco plants in a field before harvest. This is not an advertisement for cigarettes. On the other hand, this is the possibility of curing the Ebola virus. Before you go out and smoke cigarettes, allow me to explain how the process works. There are genetically-modified tobacco plants that are being used to develop a drug that can effectively treat the deadly Ebola virus.
Small Pharma Company
If you follow the news, West Africa is under an Ebola crisis. Over 900 dead to date and even two american doctors were infected with the Ebola virus. Since then, those two doctors have been transported to the states for treatment. The treatment comes from Mapp Biopharmaceutical which is based in San Diego.
Mapp has developed tobacco plants that contain designer antibodies to treat Ebola. Keep in mind, it is an experimental treatment but so far it is working. Tobacco plant-derived medicines are part of cutting edge plant-based treatments being developed for everything from pandemic flu to rabies. Producing antibodies in plants is faster, safer and less expensive than manufacturing in a laboratory environment.
The path to creating Ebola antibodies in tobacco plants starts with animals such as mice. Mice are injected with a vaccine carrying Ebola virus proteins. Mapp’s experimental drug (ZMapp) has three antibodies, which work together to alert the immune system and neutralize the Ebola virus. They were harvested from mice. Then tobacco plants are used as hosts to grow large amounts of the antibodies. Genes for the desired antibodies are fused to genes from a natural tobacco virus.
The tobacco plants are then infected with this new artificial virus, and antibodies are grown inside the plant as it tries to defend itself. The tobacco plant is harvested, ground up and the antibody is extracted. This is a much safer form of developing antibodies since the risk of accidental infection to humans is extremely low.
Other Plants Tested
There are other research that produces antibodies in lettuce, carrots and duckweed. The technology to do this has been around for a while but hasn’t advanced as much as one hopes. For example Elelyso is produced in modified carrot cells and was approved by U.S. regulators in 2012 to treat Gaucher’s disease. Locteron, an interferon-based hepatitis C drug candidate derived from duckweed, went through Phase 2 trials before its maker, Biolex Therapeutics Inc., declared bankruptcy.
These new drug treatment approaches can help transform the tobacco industry. Large tobacco companies are helping fund research on testing vaccines for pandemic influenza strain, rabies and rotavirus. Imagine now growing tobacco in fields not for smoking which has been known to cause cancer but rather for treating diseases like west nile and the flu. If the science works, the possibilities are endless.
Do you think plant medicines will work?