Tobacco Could Treat Cancer

Plant's virus can carry therapeutic genes into damaged cells
By Ambreen Ali,  Newser User
Posted Sep 4, 2008 12:00 PM CDT
A scientist works in a genetic lab in China. If the tobacco virus can be used as a carrier for siRNA in humans, some say it would be the most significant breakthrough since vaccines.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – Tobacco may be able to redeem itself. A modified virus from the plant can inject gene therapy into diseased cells to treat cancer, viruses, and genetic disorders, Wired reports. The virus’ tubular shape can be hollowed out and used like a tiny syringe to inject RNA molecules inside a cell. The "siRNA" can then program cells to destroy disease-causing proteins.

Scientists have known about siRNA, which works with minimal side effects, but the problem with the fragile molecules has been the delivery. The tobacco virus, if it works, may be the most significant medical discovery since vaccines. But scientists are worried that people could build immunity to the virus, limiting its influence, and they are still looking for ways to direct the virus to the right cells.