Scientists are reporting success in producing a genetically engineered tomato that, when eaten, mimics the impacts of good cholesterol by decreasing plaque build-up in the arteries.
The development, reported by UCLA researchers at a meeting of the American Heart Association, involved laboratory experiments of mice. But scientists said the findings have broad implications for human health.
"We have found a new and practical way to make a peptide that acts like the main protein in good cholesterol, but is many times more effective and can be delivered by eating the plant," said Dr. Alan M. Fogelman, executive chair of the Department of Medicine and director of the Atherosclerosis Research Unit in the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Folgelman and colleagues genetically engineered the tomatoes to produce a small peptide known as 6F that mimics the action of ApoA-1, the chief protein in high density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol). They fed the tomatoes to mice that lack the ability to remove low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) from their blood and are more prone to developing inflammation and atherosclerosis.
The results showed mice that ate the freeze-dried, ground tomatoes from the engineered plants had less inflammation and reduced atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries), even after consuming a high-fat, calorie-packed diet.
"To our knowledge this is the first example of a drug with these properties that has been produced in an edible plant and is biologically active when fed without any isolation or purification of the drug," Fogelman said.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.