The next time you’ve got a cold or flu, your doctor may advise you to ‘eat your lettuce’ – and not just because lettuce is healthy. Okay, so eating lettuce by itself won't necessarily cure your ails (although it may prevent them), but it may soon be the host to life-saving drugs, transforming the way top pharmaceutical companies produce and administer medications.
Say what you will about the pharmaceutical industry—it’s flawed just like every other massive industry on the planet, maybe even more so--but that doesn’t discount its inherent benefits. Many drugs really do work wonders, you know, saving lives and all that.
One of the biggest and most well-deserved criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry is just how expensive important drugs have become. These traditional pharmaceuticals are called “whole protein-based drugs”, and much of the cost can be attributed not just to Big Pharma's love for profit, but to the legitimate need for refrigerated transport and storage. Vaccines specifically, which save millions of lives each year, have traditionally been produced with “dead” pathogens—inactive bacteria or viruses that cause the diseases being vaccinated against. So refrigeration is necessary for transport and storage, making administration of these life-saving drugs difficult to use in many parts of the world, where they're often needed most.
Now, researchers out of the University of Pennsylvania say low-cost drugs could be just around the corner, thanks to plants—namely freeze-dried lettuce leaves—which were recently used to create a blood-clotting drug for hemophiliacs. The research was published in the recent issue of the journal Biomaterials.
“This is a milestone in our field, to make a fully functional drug in plants, produce it at a large scale, and in quantities sufficient for human clinical trials,” the study’s senior author, Professor Henry Daniell, told Vice.
According to Vice, lettuce has been used to create a shelf-stable home for more than 30 different vaccines, which can be shipped and stored at room temperature, “a much-needed advance in the vaccine world.”
The new development by the Penn researchers uses lettuce cells as hosts for the drug-preventing therapeutic proteins, making them shelf-stable “for months—and even years,” Vice explains. “No need for pathogens and no need for refrigeration.”
Dr. Daniell says this breakthrough can “change the landscape and save lives.”
And of course, it just underscores the amazing benefits of our leafy green friends. Now, pass the salad, please.
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Lettuce image via Shutterstock