News / Health

Chemists Take First Steps in Making Cancer Drug

Scientists use common bacterium, E. coli, to synthesize Taxol

Multimedia

Audio
Art Chimes

This photo of a Pacific Yew tree was taken in Mt. Hood, Oregon.
This photo of a Pacific Yew tree was taken in Mt. Hood, Oregon.

The drug Taxol is a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, but it's very expensive and complicated to manufacture.

Now, scientists at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they've taken the first steps to make the drug using a common bacterium.

Taxol was first found in the bark of the Pacific Yew tree decades ago. Like many complex chemicals, it is the result of a series of steps that in this case all happen in the tree.

MIT chemical engineering professor Gregory Stephanopoulos and colleagues have begun the process of making Taxol in the lab, starting with a genetically engineered form of E. coli, a safe variety of the bacterium that's usually in the news in stories about food poisoning.

"It is the bacterium of choice for a lot of molecular biology," he explained, "so there are many, many tools available for working with E. coli, and these tools allow researchers to 'knock out' genes and introduce new genes into E. coli."

By genetically manipulating the microbe, the scientists were able to take the first chemical steps in the process that, in nature, eventually leads to Taxol.

"So E. coli, that little bacterium, acts as a little chemical factory. In this way it replaces an equivalent chemical process which may require high temperatures and pressures and expensive solvents and all of these things — all of that is replaced by a single bacterium that's been property engineered to do that," said Stephanopoulos.

Another advantage is that the intermediate chemical molecules can themselves be studied and tested for any possible therapeutic effects they might have.

Although the process, if perfected, may synthesize a drug found in tree bark, Stephanopoulos says it's important to remember that Taxol — and possibly other, undiscovered medicines — originate in nature.

"It relies on samples from plants from the rainforests, from different sources, because the diversity that exists in these habitats gives the opportunity for the production of many, many, many different types of molecules, some of which may have very potent therapeutic properties."

So he says it is important to continue prospecting in the natural world in the hopes of discovering pharmaceutical molecules, even if they are eventually manufactured in ways different than how they are grown in nature.

MIT chemical engineering professor Gregory Stephanopoulos and his colleagues published their research in the journal Science.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More