Scientists at Stanford University are trying to grow a new cancer vaccine and are looking to use the plant that has caused millions of people to develop cancer.
The study suggests that the tobacco plant could be used to fight forms of lymphoma. Researchers are trying to develop a therapeutic vaccine, one that would make the body attack only cancer cells.
The idea is to use the plants as a ‘factory’ in order to grow vaccines quickly and inexpensively. These vaccines would be tailored specifically to each person’s type of lymphoma.
Ronald Levy, who is the lead researcher of the study, said, “This is a vaccine which is custom made for each person, because each person’s tumor is different,” Levy told Bloomberg. “For something like this where we need a different product for every person and we needed it fast, this is a very nice technology. The irony is that this is a treatment for cancer we’re building out of tobacco.”
The study was conducted with 16 diagnosed patients, but was too small to determine if the vaccine helped. A larger study will be needed in order to confirm the benefits of this research. They did, however, find that the vaccine was safe and generated the immune response they were looking for.
“Researchers scratch tobacco leaves with the gene-laced virus to infect the plant, which subsequently produces the protein antibodies also seen in the patient’s tumor. The leaves are plucked a few days later and ground into a green pulp, from which the antibodies are extracted and purified. They are then injected back into the patient, Levy said.”
A benefit of this potentially new type of vaccine is that the tobacco plant grows quickly, which would make it worth it to “mass produce” the vaccine, if it turns out to work in people with this type of cancer.