Using stem cells from trees, cheap and sustainable production of a well-known cancer drug is possible, suggests a new study.
University of Edinburgh researchers have isolated and grown stem cells from a yew tree whose bark is a natural source of the anticancer compound paclitaxel.
The development could enable the compound to be produced on a commercial scale at low cost, with no harmful by-products.
Scientists and engineers behind the development say the drug treatment - currently used on lung, ovarian, breast, head and neck cancer - could become cheaper and more widely available.
Currently, an extract from yew tree bark is used to industrially manufacture the compound paclitaxel.
However, this process is expensive, requires supplies of mature trees, and creates environmentally damaging by-products.
Researchers claim that using stem cells-self-renewing tree cells which can be manipulated to produce large amounts of the active compound-would effectively create an abundant supply of the drug.
Scientists behind the project have also cultured stem cells from other plants with medical applications, indicating that the technique could be used to manufacture other important pharmaceuticals besides paclitaxel.
The study was published in Nature Biotechnology.