Tobacco plant can cure rabies

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 03, 2013 07:50 hrs

London, Feb 3 (IANS) Tobacco may have been dubbed a killer, but a genetically altered version of the plant could provide a low cost cure for deadly rabies, says a study.

University of London scientists have developed an antibody from genetically engineered tobacco plants to prevent the virus from attaching to nerve endings around the bite site and from travelling to the brain.

"Rabies continues to kill many thousands of people throughout the developing world every year and can also affect international travellers," said Leonard Both, researcher and study co-author work from the Hotung Molecular Immunology Unit at St. George's, University of London, The FASEB Journal reports.

"An untreated rabies infection is nearly 100 percent fatal and is usually seen as a death sentence.

"Producing an inexpensive antibody in transgenic plants opens the prospect of adequate rabies prevention for low-income families in developing countries," said Both, according to a London statement.

Both and colleagues "humanized" the sequences for the antibody so people could tolerate it.

Then, the antibody was produced using transgenic tobacco plants as an inexpensive production platform.

The antibody was purified from the plant leaves and characterized regarding to its protein and sugar composition.

The antibody was also shown to be active in neutralizing a broad panel of rabies viruses, and the exact antibody docking site on the viral envelope was identified using certain chimeric rabies viruses.

"Although treatable by antibodies if caught in time, rabies is bad news," said Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal.

"This is especially true for people in the developing world where manufacturing costs lead to treatment shortages, added Weissmann, professor of medicine at New York University and director of its Biotechnology Study Centre.

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