Many drugs on the market today are either directly derived from plants, or their forebears were. According to Professor Gary Loake, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, "Plants are a rich source of medicine -- around one in four drugs in use today is derived from plants." Taxol, used to treat certain types of cancers, is one such drug and is derived from the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia).

Professor Loake led a recently published study (Nature Biotechnology) on the use of plant stem cells as a "...low-cost, clean and safe way to harness the healing power of plants, potentially helping to treat cancer, and other conditions." Paclitaxel (Taxol) is an anticancer compound extracted from the bark of the Pacific yew. Commercial manufacture, however, requires mature trees and is expensive. Even modified processes that use the twigs and needles, rather than the bark, are inconsistent, costly, and create harmful by-products.

Plant stem cells from the yew tree are self-renewing and can be manipulated to produce large amounts of the active compound, without undesirable by-products. The cost is also far less as, given the proper conditions, stem cells can grow virtually indefinitely. Stem cells from other plants with medical applications are also being studied for their potential to provide low-cost alternatives to expensive drug manufacturing.

Sounds like science and the healing power of plants are uniting for the common good! To read more, visit:

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