ISPP 2015

Career Opportunities in Pharmacy
Lifesaving Medicines Made From Plants You’ve Never Heard Of


This may surprise you, but being a plant is
hard work. It’s not all about sunbaking and soaking
up the rain. Plants are constantly fighting off pests,
defending themselves from fungi and protecting their themselves from pesky plant eating animals. Nature’s own amazing drug lab has been concocting
chemical weapons to fight their battles for millions of years. And in more recent times we’ve also realised
that many of these compounds can be useful for our survival too. Today I’m counting down my favourite medicines
that were originally derived from plants. Arthur Barclay was an American Botanist who
would often go on excursions to collect plant samples. In 1962 he went to Washington state and collected
bark from the Pacific Yew tree. There was no special reason for him to collect
this bark. It was just one of the thousands of plants
that the National Cancer Institute was testing for anticancer activity. A couple of year later, researchers realised
that extracts from the Pacific Yew were toxic to human cells. Fast forward to 1979 and Dr Susan Horowitz
found that that Paclitaxel stops cancer cell growth by stopping cell division. Today, Paclitaxel is a commonly used chemotherapy
agent. It’s used in lung cancer as well as breast
cancer treatment. Next up is the poppy of the plant Papaver
Somniferum. In the early 1800s, a German pharmacist called
Friedrich Sertürner was so curious about the effects of the opium poppy, that he started
experimenting on stray dogs and then on himself. Because this extract made him feel so sleepy,
he named it Morphium after the god of dreams, Morpheus. Shortly afterwards, Friedrich became addicted
to the drug and wrote: “I consider it my duty to attract attention to the terrible
effects of this new substance called Morphium in order that calamity may be averted”. Even though Morphine has the potential to
be addictive if used irresponsibly, it’s still an important pain killer when other
pain killers just don’t work. For example it’s used in the emergency department,
after surgery and also in palliative care. There have been attempts to produce opium
derivatives that aren’t as addictive as Morphine, but this has only been partially
effective. When used responsibly, Morphine and other
opium derivatives can be an effective and very powerful tool against the suffering caused
by severe pain. For more than 2000 years, Chinese herbalists
were using the herb Artemisia Annua in the treatment of Malaria. But was only in 1972 when a Chinese scientist
called Tu Youyou discovered the malaria fighting compound and called it Artemisinin. This was an incredibly timely finding because
Malaria was quickly becoming resistant to an older drug called Chloroquine. Today, Artemisinin based therapies are used
as first line treatment where Chloroquine is no longer effective. Modern day Aspirin has its roots in ancient
medicines derived from the Willow tree. The ancient Egyptians mentioned using willow
and myrtle to treat pain and fever. Hippocrates, often referred to as the Father
of Medicine, suggested drinking willow bark tea to relieve pain during childbirth. In the early 1800s, multiple chemists extracted
this mysterious pain and fever curing compound from the willow bark. In 1828, the German chemist Johann Buchner
called this compound Salicin. But extraction from the willow bark was difficult
and wasteful. Eventually the combined work of multiple chemists
led to the formulation of modern day Aspirin – acetylsalicylic acid. A compound that can be produced synthetically,
is less bitter and has less stomach irritation. And finally we have the French Iliac, also
known as Galega Officinalis. It contains a substance called Guanidine,
which was found in 1918 to have blood sugar lowering effects. Multiple guanidine derivatives were developed
like Buformin and Phenformin. These were really good at lowering blood sugar,
but had to be taken off the market because of a severe side effect called lactic acidosis. The spotlight fell onto Metformin, which wasn’t
the most potent derivative, but had less side effects than its cousins. Metformin is now one of the first line treatments
for type 2 diabetes and helps millions of people control their blood sugar levels. If you walk into a hospital, it seems as though
place the is completely artificial and devoid of nature. Sterile surgical theatres, intimidating scanning
equipment and geometrically shaped pills. But if you look below the surface, there’s
a really intriguing relationship between humans and nature. Hundreds of modern day medicines have been
inspired by nature. But it’s not that nature has all the answers. Take the pacific yew for example. There are many compounds that are toxic to
humans. But it’s only if you extract the right one
and dose it carefully, that you can develop a cancer curing drug. So nature provides us with clues. But it takes the ingenuity and curiosity of
many researchers to put these clues together and see beyond what’s obvious. And it’s not just in medicine. In many scientific disciplines, it’s when
human intellect converges with nature that truly astounding discoveries are made. A recent game-changing discovery inspired
by nature is the CRISPR gene editing system. Researchers looked at the immune system of
bacteria and found an enzyme called Cas9 which can make specific gene edits. If you’d like to learn more about where
CRISPR technology may take us in the future, click on the video on your right. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in
the next one.

7 thoughts on “Lifesaving Medicines Made From Plants You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. great question and well explained answer. I would love to have seen a comparison shot of a man walking. the graphics are clean, but lack a bit of cohesion – they're beautiful, but don't always look related to each other. great host read – good charisma.

  2. Artemisinin saved my life from malaria when chloroquine wasnt working. wonderfull medicine. Btw great video. keep it up doc

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