Obtaining medical substances isn’t always an easy task. In the early days of history, the only available sources were from plants and fungi, whereby substances were derived from them in various manners. This wasn’t a very controlled or even effective method, resulting in variable dosages and just not a lot of worthwhile ingredients obtained overall.
How To Make Rare Medicines
Since then, chemistry has helped in the development of synthetic alternatives, often the exact same chemicals as can be found in the wild, but derived from chemical synthesis and mass-producible. This has helped in providing medicine for an ever expanding population worldwide.
Such a system, however, doesn’t work for every substance. Some medicine obtained from plants are too complex to be easily synthesized or are new enough that there haven’t been successful attempts to create them chemically. That means that the only source for these medicines remains the plants themselves. There is the issue of over-harvesting to be concerned with though, even for those plants that we can grow and farm ourselves.
Another method that is a sort of combination of the two is to use scientific means to grow cell cultures of the parts of the plants that produce the medical compound and create the medicines that way. In this form, the medicines are referred to as biologically active substances (BAS) and when used in pharmaceutical pills and ointments, they are called the active ingredients (AI).
Even this process of cell culturing hasn’t been particular efficient. The cells themselves only retain the usual amount of BAS that you would expect from a cell on the plant proper, which is a minuscule amount. This means that a large amount of culturing and cells is needed to produce any meaningful amount of medicine.
Cloning and Hormone Therapy
But science is the process by which new answers are obtained. And science has a new option for this problem. Researchers from the Tomsk State University in Russia have succeeded in creating a new technological system that produces cells with higher amounts of active compounds. This means that less of rare plants need to be harvested to produce the required amount of medicine for worldwide needs, since most of these complicated substances are for rare conditions that few have.
The method they use is similar to organogenesis and the cloning of plants, as discussed in a very old Bioscription article (https://goo.gl/N1b5Ea). The tissue cultures sent to the university are put into sterile containers and grown in artificially productive environments that induce them to begin to form calluses, which are masses of growing cell tissue. Then nutrient agar plates and other media specially designed to help the cells reproduce are used.
The nutrients included in these cultures are particularly designed and include plant hormones and other chemicals that induce higher rates of formation of BAS in the cells. This is possible because the medical substances don’t act as such for the plants themselves. For many plants, they are instead reactive substances that help deal with stressful environmental conditions, including attacks from pests or temperature changes. So, making the cells feel that such a condition is occurring leads to them producing high levels of the substances.
More Availability of Medicine
Overall, cell cultures have always been the better option, due to not having to deal with shifting growing conditions and the ability to directly control the cells’ growth. Also, there is no limitation to time of year that they can be made, another benefit over direct farming of medicinal plants.
The researchers plant to continue their experiments and to produce the cultures even more extensively to increase BAS production even further before taking the process to the worldwide market.
Sometime soon, rare medications may become more widely available and more accessible for the common person.
Photo CCs: Mammillaria sp. (006) from Wikimedia Commons