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Researchers Engineer Tobacco to Destroy Rabies

Update Date: Feb 01, 2013 11:40 AM EST

It is universally accepted that smoking or chewing tobacco is bad for your health. In fact, smoking cigarettes is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the world. However, researchers from the University of London, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency and the University of Westminster in the United Kingdom have developed a genetically engineered version of the tobacco that produces antibodies that can kill the rabies virus. The finding could hold particular importance for residents in the developing world, where manufacturing costs make delivering treatment difficult.

The researchers used a monoclonal antibody and made it tolerable for the human body. Then the antibody was produced using tobacco leaves, because they were a cheap and easy production platform. The antibody locks onto the site of the bite that would insert rabies into the body and prevents the virus from traveling into the brain.

"Rabies continues to kill many thousands of people throughout the developing world every year and can also affect international travelers," study author Leonard Both said in a statement. "An untreated rabies infection is nearly 100 percent fatal and is usually seen as a death sentence. Producing an inexpensive antibody in transgenic plants opens the prospect of adequate rabies prevention for low-income families in developing countries."

Rabies is treatable if it is caught in time, but if not, it can be deadly. The time period between infection and the exhibition of symptoms can take place over the course of 10 days to seven years, though most people infected with rabies show symptoms between three and 12 weeks after infection, according to the United States' Library of Medicine. Symptoms of rabies include drooling, convulsions and muscle spasms.

According to the Immunization Action Coalition, rabies kills more than 55,000 people and millions of animals each year.

The study was published in The FASEB Journal.

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