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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid