Tobacco could cure cancer

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Tobacco could be the basis of the latest method to fight against cancer. A French scientist hopes that by using a particular variety of the plant he can produce treatments for curbing the illness.

Alain Tissier, a biologist, plans to use molecules from tobacco plants to create a cheaper, more effective way of manufacturing treatments. "These molecules - taxol and taxotere - are already used in treatments for cancers of the ovary, breast, lung and prostate," said M. Tissier, who heads the Librophyt scientific research company based in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France. "They are used in chemotherapy and are essential in preventing the spread of cancerous cells."

Both molecules have traditionally been obtained from yews. But their concentration in the trees is low, which has led to them being over-exploited and almost disappearing in certain countries. Moreover, the process is expensive and time-consuming as the trees must be mature.

To solve the problem, Mr Tissier uses tobacco to produce the substances instead. He will be using a wild strain of the plant, not that used by cigarette manufacturers. He chose the plant as "it already produces molecules of the grade that we require". The plant is also easy and cheap to grow, which could in turn reduce the cost of cancer treatments. "We could also ensure regular production and a regular quantity of molecules produced," he said.

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