Treating Type 1 Diabetes with – Tobacco?

Treating Type 1 Diabetes with – Tobacco: What if you were told that by eating a small amount of tobacco on a regular basis you could reduce the likelihood of developing Type 1 diabetes? Recent research is indicating that a genetically altered strain of tobacco may have the capacity to aid in the possible prevention of Type 1 diabetes.

European researchers at the University of Verona, “Set out to create transgenic tobacco plants that would produce biologically-active interleukin-10 (IL-10), a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine,” according to a recent report in

The National Institute of Health says, “Evidence suggests that an imbalance in Th1/Th2 responses may play a key role in the development of autoimmune diabetes. Since interleukin-10 (IL-10) modulates immune and inflammatory responses and has been implicated in many autoimmune diseases [including Type 1 diabetes].”

Scientists discovered that the IL-10 was genetically adaptable using the common tobacco plant. This discovery is new and yet related to developments in recent years that seem to show substantial promise in the use of plant proteins to manage potential IL-10 therapies for Type 1 diabetes. reported on July 31, 2007, “Capsules of insulin produced in genetically modified lettuce could hold the key to restoring the body’s ability to produce insulin and help millions of Americans who suffer from insulin-dependent diabetes, according to University of Central Florida biomedical researchers.”

The impact of these developments may be most keenly felt in the pocketbook of the medical consumer. For instance the genetically modified tobacco could be taken in an unprocessed form (i.e. eating the actual plant) instead of producing something in a pill form. The result is a product that costs less and can be more quickly made available to patients. With the lettuce it would be possible to simply use this in a salad or as a sandwich topping although capsules could also be made available. According to Professor Mario Pezzotti of the University of Verona, “Transgenic plants are attractive systems for the production of therapeutic proteins because they offer the possibility of large scale production at low cost, and they have low maintenance requirements. The fact that they can be eaten, which delivers the drug where it is needed, thus avoiding lengthy purification procedures, is another plus compared with traditional drug synthesis.”

The idea behind using these plants is that they are easily grown and can provide a meaningful harvest. While it is true that tobacco has a social stigma attached to it this plant does seem to be one of the most adaptable to genetic modification for potential medical benefit.

This process of medical plant proteins is called molecular farming and is a growing field that effectively bridges the gap between what is commonly thought of as medicinal with more natural applications.

While multiple plants have been studied for use in delivering the needed medicine it is the tobacco plant that has impressed most researchers due to the ease of genetic manipulation and the fact that an entirely new tobacco plant can be developed using a single cell from an existing plant.

Tobacco is also a very hearty plant that can grow in many locations. While it may be viewed negatively with respect to cigarette manufacturing, the plant can perhaps be redeemed as a means of delivering potent plant proteins that can aid in the prevention or therapy of Type 1 diabetes.