Stanford University Harnessing Plants to Produce Safer, Less Expensive Drugs

When we think of the value of plants, we often visualize sources of food, not pharmaceuticals. However, many of the world’s essential medicines are derived from plants in processes that are too often inefficient, unreliable, and environmentally destructive.

Dr. Elizabeth Sattely and her team are exploring how plants can be re-engineered to serve as miniature chemical production facilities to produce a wide array of biological agents. Their target is Nicotiana benthamiana, an Australian relative of the tobacco plant whose “flexible” chemistry has been harnessed in a number of laboratory applications. At Stanford, a Nicotiana variety is being used to produce the chemotherapy agent Etoposide, a drug used to treat many different kinds of cancers.

“This work not only has the potential to make lifesaving drugs more accessible, but also safer and more reliable.” 

– Dr. Elizabeth Sattely, PhD

The current process for producing Etoposide involves using large quantities of the Himalayan Mayapple, an endangered plant that has been overharvested since the drug’s discovery. Dr. Sattely’s process is faster and can also make it easier for researchers to make analogs of the drug that could have reduced side effects and improved effectiveness.

Retaking The Field Volume 1 “Retaking the Field: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research” is a collaborative report from 13 partnering universities and the SoAR Foundation. The report provides a compelling case to policymakers and the public for increased federal agricultural research funding by celebrating the advances and exploring the untapped potential of the agriculture and food sciences. View The Issue
Retaking the Field Volume 1: The Case for a Surge in Agricultural Research Click to download report

More Stories from the community

Helping Chickens Breathe Easier

Chang-Won Lee, PhD, and his colleagues worry about more than the avian flu. They focus expansively on more than a single respiratory disease. While scientists may be able to generate vaccines to stop the spread of individual pathogens, many countries do not import products from vaccinated poultry.

Read More