Tobacco plant may light the way to beating cancer, Australian scientists say

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

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Ornamental varieties of plant contain molecule that specifically targets cancer cells, say researchers

The tobacco plant could be a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, say Australian scientists.

They have found a molecule in the flower of the plant that targets cancer cells and rips them open, according to an article in the journal eLife.

“There is some irony,” the lead researcher, Dr Mark Hulett, said. “But this is a welcome discovery, whatever the origin.”

A promising feature of the molecule is that it targets cancer cells and does little damage to healthy cells.

“One of the biggest issues with current cancer therapies is that the treatment is indiscriminate,” said Hulett of the La Trobe institute for molecular science in Victoria.

He is confident the research will result in new drugs to fight cancer and possibly in a new type of antibiotic to fight infections.

The molecule is found in the colourful flower of ornamental tobacco plants, which are in the same family as the commercial variety.

“It’s an unexpected way to fight disease,” said Dr Marc Kvansakul, whose team was responsible for explaining how the process works.

“We have found gold in an unexpected place. The actual tobacco plant is not bad. Just what we do with it is bad.

“We are very excited about this research. It has taken several years and it has been a very exciting ride.”

The research adds to knowledge about molecules in all plants and animals that form the first line of defence against disease.

“Until now nobody has known how the molecules actually do their job,” Hulett said.