Genetically modified tobacco plants produce antibodies to treat rabies

February 1, 2013

Smoking tobacco might be bad for your health, but a genetically altered version of the plant might provide a relatively inexpensive cure for the deadly rabies virus. In a new research report appearing in The FASEB Journal, scientists produced a monoclonal antibody in transgenic tobacco plants that was shown to neutralize the rabies virus. This new antibody works by preventing the virus from attaching to nerve endings around the bite site and keeps the virus from traveling to the brain.

"Rabies continues to kill many thousands of people throughout the developing world every year and can also affect international travelers," said Leonard Both, M.Sc., a researcher involved in the work from the Hotung Molecular Immunology Unit at St. George's, University of London, in the United Kingdom. "An untreated rabies infection is nearly 100 percent fatal and is usually seen as a death sentence. Producing an inexpensive antibody in opens the prospect of adequate rabies prevention for low-income families in developing countries."

To make this advance, Both and colleagues "humanized" the sequences for the antibody so people could tolerate it. Then, the antibody was produced using transgenic tobacco plants as an inexpensive production platform. The antibody was purified from the plant leaves and characterized with regards to its protein and sugar composition. The antibody was also shown to be active in neutralizing a broad panel of rabies viruses, and the exact antibody docking site on the viral envelope was identified using certain chimeric rabies viruses.

"Although treatable by antibodies if caught in time, rabies is bad news," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The . "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."

Explore further: A simplified method of giving rabies vaccine

More information: Leonard Both, Craig van Dolleweerd, Edward Wright, Ashley C. Banyard, Bianca Bulmer-Thomas, David Selden, Friedrich Altmann, Anthony R. Fooks, and Julian K.-C. Ma. Production, characterization, and antigen specificity of recombinant 62-71-3, a candidate monoclonal antibody for rabies prophylaxis in humans. FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.12-219964

Related Stories

First human gets new antibody aimed at rabies virus

September 30, 2009

MassBiologics of the University of Massachusetts Medical School today announced the beginning of a Phase 1 clinical trial, testing the safety and activity of a human monoclonal antibody (MAB) developed to neutralize the rabies ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.