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Stem Cells from Yew Trees Could Provide Low-Cost Cancer Drug


Paclitaxel, a popular yet expensive cancer drug used to treat breast cancer, could be made at low cost by using stem cells from yew trees. Stem cells are self-renewing and so could provide an ongoing supply of the cancer drug and be sustainable as well.

Use of stem cells for cancer drug is cost effective

Paclitaxel (Taxol, Onxol) is a first-line treatment for breast, ovarian, lung, and colon cancer and second-line treatment for AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. This highly effective yet costly drug stops tumor growth by inhibiting cell division.

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A way to make this drug more affordable, readily available, and sustainable could be on the horizon. Researchers have isolated and grown stem cells from a yew tree whose bark has been the natural source of paclitaxel. The current manufacturing process, however, is costly, creates by-products that harm the environment, and requires a great number of mature trees.

Now a study conducted by a team of scientists and engineers from the University of Edinburgh and the Unhwa Biotech company in Korea has found a less expensive and more sustainable way to manipulate stem cells to produce large amounts of the compound required to make the cancer drug.

The cancer drug paclitaxel may not be the only pharmaceutical product scientists will be able to produce by using cultured stem cells. Professor Gary Loake of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, noted that “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.”

University of Edinburgh



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