Friday, 11 May 2018
60 years to unlock the secrets of a cancer-fighting flower
A chemical extracted from a small flowering plant of Madagascar periwinkle, or rosy periwinkle, has helped in the fight against cancer for decades. Now, after a 60-year hunt, scientists have finally uncovered how it creates this medically important molecule.
For decades, scientists have eagerly extracted a chemical called vinblastine from its leaves as vinblastine is effective against cancers of bladder, testicular, lung, ovary, and breast.
But around 500 kilograms of dried leaves are required to produce just 1 gram of vinblastine.
Using modern technology, traditional chemistry, and literature penned in the 1960s and '70s, they pieced together the chemical steps involved in converting the precursor molecule to vinblastine in 31 steps. Within 12-18 months, the scientists hope small quantities of vinblastine can be created synthetically.