New rabies cure uses genetically modified tobacco

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tobacco has a new role for curing rabies. Researchers have discovered genetically  modified plants produce antibodies that are safe for humans and can stop the virus from attacking the brain. 

Left untreated, rabies is 100 percent fatal.

The treatment was developed by scientists from the Hotung Molecular Immunology Unit at St. George's, University of London, in the United Kingdom.

The goal is to manufacture an inexpensive vaccine for low-income and developing countries.

Leonard Both, M.Sc., a researcher involved in the work from the Hotung Molecular Immunology Unit at St. George's, engineered a human form of the antibody.

Both has been working to find ways to treat diseases such as rabies with passive immunization that he explained in a 2012 Lancet study could replace "the less efficient and unsafe nerve-tissue-derived rabies vaccines."

Next they used genetically modified tobacco plants as a platform for production; purifying the antibodies from the leaves.

The rabies antibody worked to neutralize rabies by preventing the virus from attaching to nerve endings around the site of a bite.

The study is published in The FASEB journal. "Although treatable by antibodies if caught in time, rabies is bad news," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief in a press release.

"This is especially true for people in the developing world where manufacturing costs lead to treatment shortages. Being able to grow safe, humanized antibodies in genetically modified tobacco should reduce costs to make treatments more accessible, and save more lives."

Both said finding a low cost way to treat rabies using genetically modified tobacco as a platform for creating antibodies opens the door for prevention. Rabies can affect travelers and kills “many of thousands” in developing countries each year.

January 31, 2013