MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What information can you give me about ocean plants used for medicine?

Date: Sun Apr 29 17:05:38 2001
Posted By: Sarah Tegen, Grad student, Molecular and Cell Biology, UC-Berkeley
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 986322232.Me

Hi Stacie,
Sorry for the delay.  You've posed a really interesting question!

There are many different kinds of plants which are used to treat cancer.  
The could be either terrestrial or aquatic.  Basically what has happened, in 
the past and now still is that researchers, either in a university or at a 
company, take extracts from all kinds of plants and put them on cancer 
cells, and look if any of the extracts either stop the cancer cells from 
growing or kill them altogether.  Once a candidate drug has been found it 
will then be tried to cure cancer in lab animals, like mice.  Though mice 
are quite different looking from humans, some of their cellular biology is 
similar to humans, so trying out drugs in mice to see if they are toxic is a 
good thing. Sometimes these drugs work effectively in mice.  If that's the 
case, they will be tried in Phase I,II, and III clinical 

Basically in answer to your questions, many different kinds of plants (and 
probably animals too) have been used to try to treat cancer.  Here are some 
websites that I have found useful for specific plants used to treat cancer.

The rest of your questions are more political in nature.  Here's what I know 
about them.  A lot of cancer research is funded by the US government, 
through grants to university researchers.  There are also foundations which 
fund cancer research, like the American Cancer Society or the American 
Association for Cancer Resarch, as well as others.  Still other cancer 
research if funded by biotech companies like Amgen or Genentech and MANY 
others.  As for who should bear the cost for this research, that's a tough 
question.  It takes A LOT of money and time to go from isolating a compound 
with possible anti-cancer properties all the way to an effective cancer 
treatment. It often takes close to 10 years of time, which translates into a 
lot of money for salaries for the researchers, research supplies, and 
figuring out how to manufacture the drug.  This is one reason why (many) 
drugs are so expensive.  I think right now we're doing a pretty OK job of 
splitting up the costs of research....a lot of very basic research is done 
at the university level--training of biologists, and good research.  
However, most universities don't have the resources to figure out how to 
scale up production of a drug.  This is where a lot of the work in companies 
comes in.  Additionally, companies often have better resources to try lots 
of different compounds.  Sometimes if they find a potential compound they 
will send it to university researchers (along with money) to figure out how 
the drug works.    So as for who should pay for it, I don't really know the 
actual answer.  I guess i think it should be a mix of people, but this is 
only my opinion.

Please let me know if you have any more questions, or if I can clarify 
anything.  My email address is

Best of luck!
-Sarah Tegen

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