Tobacco used to create new cancer vaccine

A new cancer vaccine made from genetically engineered tobacco leaves has been found safe in a small, early-stage trial. The vaccine also spurred the immune systems of 11 out of 16 volunteers in the trial to attack non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, setting it up for a larger trial to help determine whether it should become a key supplement to chemotherapy.

Researchers in the field are particularly excited about this vaccine because it is easy to produce. A gene is extracted from tumor samples and inserted into tobacco mosaic virus, which is then used to infect tobacco plants. After several days the plants are ground up and the antigen extracted from it is injected into the patient.

That approach can be particularly effective for the slow-moving but lethal lymphoma, as doctors typically wait to determine how fast the cancer is moving before beginning therapy. "A technology that is fast, like this one, is more amenable to a watchful waiting approach than a technology that is slow to produce," says Stanford oncologist Ronald Levy.

- read the report from Scientific American