Human kidneys produce the protein called interleukin 37 (IL-37), which has powerful anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties. But the amount that is obtained naturally is insignificant and scientists seek their synthesis outside the body. One of the solutions is the use of genetically modified tobacco varieties.
Researchers at the University of Western Ontario and the Lawson Health Research Institute use tobacco plants as "green bioreactors" to produce the anti-inflammatory protein. It offers the ability to treat a range of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and arthritis.
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The clinical use of IL-37 has been limited due to the inability to produce it in large quantities at a price that is clinically feasible. Currently, it can be done in very small quantities using E. coli bacteria, but at a very high cost.
This work is the first of its kind to show that this functional human protein can be produced in plant cells.
"Plants offer the potential to generate pharmaceutical products in a much more convenient way than current methods: Tobacco has a high yield and we can transform the plant to start producing the protein of interest in two weeks," he said Shengwu Ma, professor of Western biology and scientist at Lawson.
Researchers have shown that the protein can be extracted from plant cells in such a way as to maintain its function. Now, the protein can be introduced into other plants, like potatoes.