Health Report 6/02/13 Using tobacco to grow flu vaccines

June 2nd, 2013

Cancer, emphysema and heart disease, using tobacco can cause them all. In fact, the National Cancer Institute says it's the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. But now one company is using tobacco to help prevent a common illness that infects millions and kills thousands every year. It could be medicine's next big thing.

These TV ads ... "When you have a hole in your neck, don't face the shower head."
Show the harm tobacco can do.

"Don't bend over. You don't want to lose the food in your stomach."
But all this tobacco ... "Not a tobacco that you smoke."
Could actually protect you and your family one day.

Charles Bryant, greenhouse manager, says: "It's something very, very new and it's something very, very unique."

Greenhouse manager Charles Bryant is helping turn these plants into flu vaccines for the bio-pharmaceutical company Medicago.

Charles, "The vaccine is actually produced inside the leaves itself. This is where the magic happens."

Mike Wanner, VP of operations, says the plants are submerged in a natural bacteria that's genetically engineered. Then, the tobacco is put in a vacuum environment.

Mike Wanner, says: "It draws in the agrobacterium, and then the agrobacterium expands in the plant and that becomes the virus-like particle that is the vaccine."
Traditional flu vaccines are made from chicken eggs. Each egg can produce about four doses. Wanner says each one of these tobacco plants can make between 30 and 100 doses. The plant-based vaccine is being tested on various flu strains right now.

Mike, "It induces a very strong immune response in humans."

It could be a smokin' new way to fight the flu.

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