UofL looking into tobacco plant playing a role in fighting COVID-19

UofL looking into tobacco plant playing a role in fighting COVID-19

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A lab at the University of Louisville has been responding to national emergencies studying highly infectious diseases.

Now, that lab is doing research focusing on the novel coronavirus that could be a game changer. It is looking into a plant that has killed so many for centuries, and how it could potentially play a role in saving lives.

Researchers at the University of Louisville Regional Biocontainment Lab are exploring the possibility of a preventative product that involves tobacco. For the past few years, it has been looking into an engineered tobacco-produced protein, called Q-Griffithsin, a broad spectrum antiviral.

“We’ve been testing it in a phase one clinical trial for preventing HIV transmission, but we know from work that we did some years ago that it also has very good activity against coronaviruses,” said Dr. Kenneth Palmer, from UofL’s Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Palmer and his research team at UofL received samples of COVID-19 last month and are researching it in the highly secure confines of their lab in Louisville. Covered head to toe in personal protective equipment to prevent infection, the researchers now are testing the therapeutic candidates against COVID-19 in cell cultures.

Kentucky has a lot of expertise in growing tobacco. But, Palmer’s research doesn’t involve tobacco grown in an ordinary field. It’s being grown in a controlled pharmaceutical production facility in Owensboro. Because tobacco grows so quickly in Kentucky, it’s a good host to produce the large quantities of the Q-Griffithsin, researchers eventually will need to go into human clinical trials.

The goal is that they will produce a product that would be used as a preventative measure in the form on a nasal spray. It could be a major breakthrough, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

Palmer said he’s hoping to get the funding to get in a clinical trial later this year.

“We’re very hopeful we will provide one way to help protect people (from) coronavirus infections, and hopefully we will make a difference,” Palmer said.

This all has to go through the hurdles of formal approval that does take some time. Palmer said he believes COVID-19 will be a problem for several years. This preventative measure could help curb cases, along with lead to a vaccine, Palmer said.

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