GMOs and their Disease-Fighting Powers

The terrible Ebola outbreak in West Africa has brought attention to a positive medical development that has been flying under the radar for years. The experimental treatment given to two Americans infected with the Ebola virus was a genetically engineered antibody treatment produced using genetically modified tobacco plants.

The Anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) crowd, of course, ignores the many medical advances created using GMOs. A partial list of medicines, drugs, and vaccines produced by genetic engineering of plants and bacteria are:

  • Insulin (used to treat diabetics)
  • Human growth hormone (used to treat diseases such as Turner’s syndrome and chronic kidney insufficiency)
  • Genetically engineered Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Anti-hemophilic factors (to stop bleeding in people with Hemophilia)
  • Flu vaccines

The vilified tobacco plant is experiencing a new resurgence in interest, but this time it isn’t from cigarette companies. The tobacco plant often used in medical research is actually a cousin of the tobacco plant used for smoking. GMO tobacco has enormous medical potential, because of its short growing time and the ability to harvest multiple times per year, it often takes less than a month to make millions of doses of a drug or vaccine.  Here’s just some of the ongoing research:

  • A Canadian company, Medicago, with initial funding from the USDOD, is developing various vaccines including seasonal flu and pandemic flu vaccines all from GMO tobacco and alfalfa based systems.
  • Another group in Austria also using the tobacco plant has successfully produced complex antibodies that have the potential to be very powerful tools in fighting cancer.
  • A company in Maryland, uses insect viruses called baculoviruses to infect insect cell cultures.  These viruses have been engineered to tell the cells to make proteins that are useful for drugs and vaccines.  Normally the virus would tell the cell to make more virus, but these have been modified so that cells are producing valuable proteins for medical purposes.

GMO plants have many advantages over traditional crops and can provide many different drugs and vaccines in already established planting areas.  The list of potential products derived from plants and bacteria that have been genetically modified continues to grow year by year.

Though the controversy surrounding GMO plants still rages thanks to misinformation spewed by activist groups, I fervently hope that people see the benefits to human health as these new technologies move forward to help alleviate disease and suffering.