Tobacco: cure for cancer?

Nicotiana alata

Nicotiana alata1By Carl E Lewis (Wikipedia)

by Zachary Foust, Plant Health Management major

Tobacco has an interesting history; from Native American rituals to worldwide use, this once crucial cash crop is typically only associated with cancer nowadays. However, a new study completed at La Trobe University (Australia) has found a cancer-fighting protein in the flowers of the ornamental tobacco plant, Nicotiana alata.

The irony is almost painful.

Don’t run out and grab a pack of 100s yet; the cultivar used for testing is not the kind used to make cigarette tobacco.

The protein, NaD1, is found in the plant’s flowers and it occurs naturally to fight off fungi and bacteria. NaD1 essentially “grabs” a cancerous cell and tears it open. The contents of the cell are released and the cell is destroyed.

Preliminary testing looks promising as it may finally lead to a discriminant form of cancer treatment.

I welcome this finding and hope it leads to a cure for cancer. Not only would radiation be completely unnecessary, the cancer-fighting molecule is derived from a plant.

This discovery should encourage all universities to begin preliminary testing with NaD1. The more people working towards a viable treatment, the faster one may be found.

One concern that should be noted is that the molecule is only produced when the plant is flowering. NaD1 may potentially have a short half-life, especially inside of the human body. This may require repeat treatments and possibly lead to increased rates of cancer returning.

For now, this protein shows great promise and may one day lead to a cure for cancer. Only time will tell.

This blog post was an assignment forĀ  Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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