Stem cells from a tree bark to cure cancer

November 1, 2010 by  
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Stem cell therapy from a tree bark?

This sounds too good to be true but if we think of it, why not?

Hundreds, thousands of years ago, people used common herbs and plants to cure a wide range of ailments. So why stem cells from a tree?

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in collaboration with the Korean biotech company Unhwa reported to have been able to isolate and grow stem cells from the yew tree, the same tree that is the natural source of the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel used for the treatment of lung, , ovarian, breast, head and neck cancer. The current process of extracting and producing the drug is expensive and time-consuming because mature trees are needed, with environmentally damaging by-products.

Using stem cell technology, the researchers can produce in the lab large amounts of yew stem cells which are self-renewing.  In doing so, large amounts of the active compound of paclitaxel may be produced more efficiently and cheaply.

This is not the only project on culturing stem cells from medicinal plants that is currently ongoing. There are many drugs out there that may be produced using this method.

As Professor Gary Loake explains:

“Plants are a rich source of medicine – around one in four drugs in use today is derived from plants. Our findings could deliver a low-cost, clean and safe way to harness the healing power of plants, potentially helping to treat cancer and other conditions.”

In recent years, the field of phytotherapy – therapy from plant extracts – has gained acceptance beyond alternative medicine. On the other hand, there are many plant and herbal products out there touted to be miracle drugs that can cure cancer and other deadly diseases. Some of them may be bona fide; many are not.

Can stem cell technology and phytotherapy go together? The purists may strongly oppose this seemingly unlikely combination but I believe that using the latest technology in stem research to promote plant-based pharmacology is a step in the right direction.

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