Taxol Is Extracted from Pacific Yew Trees (Great Events from History II: Ecology and the Environment Series)
Article abstract: Taxol, an anticancer drug, was extracted from the Pacific yew tree, raising questions of human welfare versus environmental depletion.
Summary of Event
Humans have utilized the physiological activity of natural medicinals to treat pain and illness since ancient times. In 1960, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) created a program to screen plant and animal species for chemicals (natural products) that might have anticancer properties. The scientists extracted compounds from natural tissues, which they tested for activity against laboratory cancer cells and mouse tumors. Between 1960 and 1981, the NCI tested extracts from 114,045 plant substances and 16,196 substances from animal sources. Of the 130,241 samples tested, only one compound, taxol, demonstrated significant anticancer potential.
During 1962, the U.S. Forest Service collected plant samples from the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Among these samples were the bark, twigs, needles, and berries of the Pacific yew tree. At the NCI, a yew-bark extract showed activity against laboratory (9KB) cancer cells. This material was sent to Monroe Wall at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina. Wall had previously discovered a substance in the rosy periwinkle having both 9KB and mouse leukemia activity that was subsequently developed into a treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. He found that yew-bark extract was effective in trials...
(The entire section is 2271 words.)
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