Tobacco Plants Enlisted in Search for Cervical Cancer Vaccine
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Using tobacco plants to grow ingredients for a cervical cancer vaccine sounds like science fiction--but researchers are trying to make it fact. Genetically engineered tobacco plants are being studied as a source of proteins tha
The project, by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center and North Carolina State University, has received $3 million in research funding from the federal government as part of the farm-aid bill recently passed by Congress.
Dr. Kenneth Dretchen, dean of research at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, told Reuters Health that since HPV is a precursor to cervical cancer, the idea was to develop antibodies to the virus.
``For whatever reason,'' he said, ``human papillomavirus does not grow and culture very well under normal microbiology conditions.'' It has been suggested that genetic material could be taken from HPV and grown in tobacco plants to develop viral fragments.
Noting that this is not a traditional approach, Dretchen said, ``We have been working on human papillomavirus for a long time at Georgetown, but the problem is that we could never (generate) enough antibodies to run any clinical trials. The idea was to come up with a way to grow and harvest much greater quantities of the virus fragments.''
To this end, North Carolina State University will use its expertise in growing tobacco, Dretchen said, and ``we will be producing and testing the antibodies. It will probably take 2 to 3 years before we could do clinical testing,'' he said.
North Carolina Congressman Robin Hayes worked on obtaining the funding for the project. According to a spokesman from Hayes' office, ``If successful, this particular project would have a slight positive impact on tobacco farmers. However, if you look at the potential, it could open the door to a lot of other uses and from that standpoint could have a very large impact on tobacco farmers.''