Many of the chemotherapies used to fight cancer in modern medicine were developed from natural substances.
- Taxanes used to treat prostate and breast cancer came from yew trees.
- Vinca alkaloids, which are used to treat malignant lymphomas, are made from periwinkle plants.
- The anti-cancer drugs topotecan and irinotecan come from a component of the Chinese Happy Tree.
Scientists are increasingly focusing on plants used in traditional medicine in their search for new compounds. About three-quarters of the pharmaceutical compounds used today came from plants used in traditional medicine.
Professor Dr. Thomas Efferth from Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum in Heidelberg, for example, has begun analyzing 76 Chinese medicinal plants that are believed to treat malignant tumors and other growths. Extracts from 18 of the plants were found to significantly suppress the growth of cancer cells.
â€œWith this success rate of about 24 percent, we are way above the results that could be expected from searching through large chemical substance libraries,â€ Efferth said.