Tobacco plant may aid in treating diabetes, arthritis

Toronto: Tobacco plants can be used to produce an anti-inflammatory protein that can have powerful therapeutic potential for treating conditions like Type-2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and arthritis, more effectively and at an affordable price, researchers say.

A team from the University of Western Ontario and Lawson Health Research Institute in Canada used tobacco plants to produce large quantities of a human protein called Interleukin 37, or IL-37 — naturally produced in the human kidney in very small quantities.

“This protein is a master regulator of inflammation in the body, and has been shown in pre-clinical models to be effective in treating a whole host of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases,” said Tony Jevnikar, Professor at Western.

“The human kidney produces IL-37, but not nearly enough to get us out of an inflammation injury.”

While IL-37 has shown promise in animal models, it’s use clinically has been limited because of the inability to produce it in large quantities at a price that is feasible clinically. Currently, it can be made in very small amounts using the bacteria E. coli, but at a very high cost.

That’s where the tobacco plants come in and pave the way to provide treatments that are effective and affordable, according to the study published in the journal Plant Cell Reports.

“The plants offer the potential to produce pharmaceuticals in a way that is much more affordable than current methods,” said Shengwu Ma, a scientist at Lawson.

“Tobacco is high-yield, and we can temporarily transform the plant so that we can begin making the protein of interest within two weeks.”

The team is now investigating the effect that IL-37 has for preventing organ injury during transplantation. When an organ is removed for transplantation and then transferred to a recipient, inflammation occurs when the blood flow is restored to the organ.