Levodopa-making tomatoes could provide an affordable medication for Parkinson's symptoms

Scientists in the UK have developed a tomato plant that produces high levels of levodopa. This research may help more people access this important Parkinson's medication.

Levodopa-based medicines are the gold standard for the treatment of Parkinson's worldwide. But in developing countries, many people can't afford the daily $2 price of synthetic levodopa tablets.

Professor Cathie Martin, from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, has been investigating affordable alternatives that might allow more people to access the medications they need to manage their symptoms. 

In research funded by Parkinson's UK, she developed a type of white beetroot that produced naturally high levels of levodopa. This was done by turning off the genes that normally turn the levodopa into coloured pigments.

What the researchers did

Now the team has taken this research one step further, transferring the gene that allows beetroot to make levodopa into a tomato plant. The resulting genetically modified plant could allow 150mg of levodopa to be produced per kilogram of tomatoes. 

The levodopa then be needs to be purified. Good management of symptoms in the earlier stages of Parkinson’s is normally achieved with a daily levodopa dosage of around 300-600mg per day.

Cathie believes that GM (genetically modified) tomatoes could be grown with relatively little infrastructure, alongside a local industry to extract and prepare medication with relatively little technology required. The purified medication could then be distributed locally, making levodopa medication available in countries where access is currently limited.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson's UK, comments:

"There is a great need for better symptom management in countries where access to life-changing medications is limited, and we are proud to have played a role in supporting Cathie’s previous research.

"This project is just one example where bringing researchers from different disciplines together, alongside people affected by Parkinson's who help shape research, is allowing out of the box thinking. Together the global Parkinson's community is working in partnership to tackle the most challenging issues facing those with the condition."

Find out about Parkinson's treatments

Everyone's Parkinson's is unique. So different combinations of medication, exercise and therapies will suit different people. 

Find out more about each of these treatments with our information and support materials.