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Taxol is a member of the antineoplastic (anticancer) class of chemicals that is used to combat the proliferation of cancer. The primary focus of Taxol is treatment of ovarian and breast cancer by stopping mitosis when other avenues of chemotherapy have failed. Originally extracted from the bark of the endangered Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia, this wonder drug led to quite a controversy in the environmental community, because it meant the death of four trees to produce enough taxol for a single human dose.
View a second image of taxol.
Ironically, the Pacific yew was previously considered a nuisance plant species by foresters and was discovered coexisting in the same Northwestern United States forests that harbor the endangered spotted owl. Then, Dr. Robert Holton of Florida State University developed a synthetic pathway for creating Taxol from the needles of the more common English yew to produce the first economical synthetic pathway to the drug. Another chemical synthesis of taxol using a 37-step process was elucidated by Dr. Paul Wender at Stanford University. It starts with verbenone, derived from pinene, a common ingredient in turpentine, but is too complicated and expensive for commercial production of the anticancer drug. Recently, taxol was discovered in hazelnut trees and their nuts.
Alzheimer's disease, polycystic kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, Kaposi's sarcoma, and some forms of lung cancer also seem to respond to treatment with paclitaxel (the pharmaceutical name for taxol). Research continues on economically feasible synthetic production of this invaluable cancer-fighter.
Omar Alvarado, Thomas J. Fellers and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.
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