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VSU program grows cancer drug

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April 30, 2008

Valdosta - Students at Valdosta State University may have found a new and cheaper way to make the best-selling cancer drug of all time.

Taxol prevents cancer cells from multiplying.  But it takes three full-grown pacific yew trees to produce one gram of Taxol. And the tree is an endangered species.

The Florida Yew, a closely related species, is one of the rarest trees in the world. But researchers from Valdosta State say it's the key to quickly producing the cancer drug Taxol at little cost to the consumer.

"We want to understand how these bacteria makes the drug. Then there's the applied part where you want to have a good impact on society," says Dr. Thomas Manning, a Chemistry Professor at Valdosta State University.

The chemistry students found that it's fungus from the tree, not the bark that's responsible for the production of Taxol.

But since they can't cut down the tree, they decided to cultivate it on their own.  "What we are doing is using the same fungus to produce the drug in the laboratory as an alternative method," says senior Greg Kean.

They collected samples of soil, leaves and bark from the tree and attempted to colonize the fungus in the lab.

"You understand the chemistry of the environment they live in, you recreate that chemistry in a lab then you give the fungus a place to grow," Dr. Manning says.

"What we are doing is using that fungus to produce the drug itself," Kean adds.

They were successful and their lab grown fungus tested positive for the cancer eating drug.

They are now awaiting approval for a patent that will copyright their process and believe it can be used on most natural growing drugs.

Taxol is used to treat breast, lung and ovarian cancer.

The researchers are also testing their method on two other natural cancer therapies.

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