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Tobacco Plant May Help Fight Cancer

By Super Admin

Tobacco plants, which are responsible for millions of cancer cases, may actually offer a therapy for patients with a chronic form of lymphoma, a new study suggests.

The National Academy of Sciences study suggests the tobacco plant could be used to tackle a form of lymphoma.

UK specialists said while "potentially exciting", more research would be needed to test how well the vaccine actually worked.

The ironic new role for tobacco is the work of researchers from Stanford University in California.

The researchers used the plants as factories for an antibody chemical specific to the cells, which cause follicular B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

These antibodies are put into a patient newly diagnosed with the disease, to "prime" the body's immune system to attack any cell carrying them.

If successful, this would mean the body would then recognise and destroy the lymphoma cells.

However, every patient's antibodies are different, and would need to be produced quickly once the diagnosis was made.

"It's pretty cool technology - and it's really ironic that you would make a treatment for cancer out of tobacco. That appealed to me," BBC quoted the study"s lead researcher Dr Ronald Levy, as saying.

The technique is relatively straightforward. Once a patient's cancer cells are isolated in the laboratory, the gene responsible for producing the antibody is extracted and added to the "tobacco mosaic virus".

The plants are then "infected" with the virus, and as it spreads through the cells, the added gene starts the process of producing large quantities of the antibody.

After just a few days a few leaves are taken, ground up, and the antibody extracted from them.

Only a few plants are needed to make enough vaccine for a patient.

Professor Charles Arntzen, from Arizona State University, said that the sheer speed of the production process could convince patients to wait for their own tailored vaccine rather than undergoing other treatment.

Story first published: Thursday, July 24, 2008, 13:17 [IST]
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