UCLA researchers have genetically engineered tomatoes to mimic the action of "good" cholesterol when you eat them, according to a new study published in April's issue of the Journal of Lipid Research.
The tomatoes were engineered to produce 6F, a peptide that behaves like apoA-1, "the chief protein in high-density lipoprotein (HDL or 'good' cholesterol)," notes UCLA.
"This is one of the first examples of a peptide that acts like the main protein in good cholesterol and can be delivered by simply eating the plant," said senior author Dr. Alan M. Fogelman, executive chair of the department of medicine and director of the atherosclerosis research unit at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "There was no need to isolate or purify the peptide — it was fully active after the plant was eaten."
The team's early study found less inflammation and plaque build-up in the arteries of mice that were fed the engineered tomatoes in freeze-dried, ground form.
After the tomatoes were eaten, the peptide surprisingly was found to be active in the small intestine but not in the blood, suggesting that targeting the small intestine may be a new strategy to prevent diet-induced atherosclerosis, the plaque-based disease of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Previous animal studies by Fogelman and others suggest that human conditions with "an inflammatory component," — like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, ovarian cancer, colon cancer and asthma — might benefit from "an apoA-1 mimetic peptide" treatment.
If the work applies to humans, eating genetically-modified foods could potentially help improve these conditions. The peptide would be considered a drug if delivered by injection or pill, but as a fruit it may be "no different from a safety standpoint" than the fruit itself, according to Fogelman, who adds that it may be better tolerated in that form as well.
"A Novel Approach to Oral ApoA-I Mimetic Therapy"