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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
18-Mar-2009

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Contact: Charlotte Webber
charlotte.webber@biomedcentral.com
44-207-631-9980
BioMed Central
@biomedcentral

Tobacco makes medicine

Tobacco isn't famous for its health benefits. But now scientists have succeeded in using genetically modified tobacco plants to produce medicines for several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including diabetes. The research is published in the open access journal BMC Biotechnology.

A large team of scientists from several European research organizations have participated in the study as part of the Pharma-Planta project (http://www.pharma-planta.org/). Led by Professor Mario Pezzotti at the University of Verona, they 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 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.

The authors are keen to use the plants to see whether repeated small doses could help prevent type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM), in combination with other auto-antigens associated with the disease. The team has a particular auto-antigen in its sights - the 65-kDa isoform of the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD65) - which they have also produced in transgenic tobacco plants.

According to Pezzotti, "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."

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Notes to Editors:

1. Viral and murine interleukin-10 are correctly processed and retain their biological activity when produced in tobacco
Luisa Bortesi, Marzia Rossato, Flora Schuster, Nicole Raven, Johannes Stadlmann, Linda Avesani, Alberto Falorni, Flavia Bazzoni, Ralph Bock, Stefan Schillberg and Mario Pezzotti
BMC Biotechnology (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/5131547292294705_article.pdf?random=297186

After the embargo, article available at journal website: http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcbiotechnol/

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication

2. BMC Biotechnology is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in the manipulation of biological macromolecules or organisms for use in experimental procedures or in the pharmaceutical, agrobiological and allied industries. BMC Biotechnology (ISSN 1472-6750) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, BIOSIS, CAS, Scopus, EMBASE, Thomson Reuters (ISI) and Google Scholar.

3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.



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