VERONA, Italy, March 18 (UPI) -- Italian scientists say they've used genetically modified tobacco plants to produce medicines for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including diabetes.
European researchers, led by Professor Mario Pezzotti at the University of Verona, wanted to create transgenic tobacco plants that would produce biologically active interleukin-10, a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine. They tried two different versions of IL-10 -- one from a virus and one from the mouse -- and found tobacco plants were able to process both forms, producing the active cytokine at high enough levels that it might be possible to use tobacco leaves without lengthy extraction and purification processes.
They said the next step in their research 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."
The research appears in the journal BMC Biotechnology.