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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid