"Smokin" Flu Vaccine! Medicine's Next Big Thing?

FRESNO, Calif.

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.

TV ads show the harm tobacco can do, but tobacco could actually protect you and your family one day.

"It's something very new and very unique," Greenhouse Manager, Charles Bryant, told Ivanhoe.

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

"The vaccine is actually produced inside the leaves itself," Bryant said.

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

"It draws in the agrobacterium. Then, the agrobacterium expands in the plant and that becomes the virus-like particle that is the vaccine." Mike Wanner, Executive VP of Operations for Medicago, USA, told Ivanhoe.

Traditional flu vaccines are made from chicken eggs. Each egg can produce about four doses. Wanner says one tobacco plant can make between 30 and 100 doses. The plant-based vaccine is being tested on various flu strains right now.

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

If trials go as planned we're told the tobacco flu vaccine could be on the market sometime in 2016. Officials say the plants could also be used to make a variety of other vaccines including one for rabies.

BACKGROUND: Every year flu season comes around, and sometimes the virus hits especially hard. The flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses, spreads from person to person by contact with infected objects or droplets created by an infected person's cough or sneeze entering the mouth or nose of a nearby individual. The number of flu cases often peaks in January or February, but flu season has been known to start as early as October. The severity of the flu can vary greatly, even causing death in extreme cases. Individuals at the greatest risk of flu related complications such as bacterial pneumonia include children younger than six years old, adults over the age of 65, and people with asthma, chronic lung disease or other medical conditions. (Source: www.cdc.gov)

SYMPTOMS: Flu symptoms typically come on suddenly and can be quite bothersome. Here are some common signs that a person may have the flu:

Fever Higher Than 100° Fahrenheit Body Aches Chills Headache Sore Throat and Cough Although many people think of the "stomach flu" as a kind of flu, the flu will usually not cause an upset stomach. What is referred to as the "stomach flu" is actually gastroenteritis where the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed because of a virus or bacteria. (Source: www.nlm.nih.gov)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Flu vaccines traditionally have been made using live chicken embryos, which requires a lot of eggs and can be costly as well as time-consuming. The current process of producing flu vaccines is problematic because in an outbreak, the vaccines aren't made fast enough to keep up with people's need. Now the Canadian pharmaceutical company Medicago is using tobacco plants to produce vaccines, including flu vaccines which can be made in quicker and in larger quantities. The process of creating the tobacco flu vaccine goes as follows: the DNA of the targeted viral protein is injected into a bacteria and left to multiply. Grown tobacco plants are then inverted and dipped into a dilute solution of the modified bacteria and then wrung like a sponge by a vacuum so the plants soak up the solution. After sitting in a chamber with controlled temperatures and lights, the plants are diced up and put in a digester which releases the protein by destroying the leaves' cellulose. Finally, the virus-like particles are collected and used for the vaccine. So far, the results seem to be hopeful and prove the tobacco flu vaccine would be able to keep up demands during an outbreak. (Source: www.wired.com)

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