Tree-derived stem cells may reduce cancer drug costs

In collaboration with Adfero

UK scientists have shown that stem cells derived from trees could be used to produce a common cancer drug called paclitaxel on a commercial scale, at low cost.

At present, paclitaxel is made using an extract from yew tree bark - a process that is expensive, requires a supply of mature trees, and creates harmful by-products.

Now, a research team at the University of Edinburgh and the Unhwa Biotech company in Korea have found that it may be possible to create the drug by manipulating tree-derived stem cells.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the researchers revealed that they were able to isolate stem cells from a yew tree and grow them in the laboratory.

They say it may be possible to encourage these self-renewing cells to produce large amounts of the active compound required to form paclitaxel.

The process would cost far less than conventional methods of manufacturing the drug.

Lead researcher Professor Gary Loake, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, revealed: "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."

Dr Laura Bell, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, said: "It's important to look for more efficient ways of producing effective drugs for people with cancer. Although it's not at a commercial stage yet, this new technique could provide a cheaper, cleaner way of producing the natural plant molecule that forms the basis of a drug used to treat many thousands of cancer patients every year."

References

  • Lee, E.et al (2010). Cultured cambial meristematic cells as a source of plant natural products Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt.1693