Mahogany may hold cancer medicine

By Peter Kent

Feng Chen, Clemson food scientistA tree best known for its wood holds promise as a cancer treatment. Clemson food scientist Feng Chen’s research shows that distilled biochemicals from African mahogany slow the growth of colon cancer cells in laboratory experiments.

The National Institutes of Health is funding research by Chen and scientists at the University of South Carolina as they seek pharmaceuticals in traditional medicinal plants that may be used to treat colon cancer.

Approximately 40% of U.S. medicines contain chemicals derived from plants, and biochemists and botanists are searching the plant kingdom for new ones. Plant extracts – such as quinine from the cinchona, morphine and codeine from the poppy, and digoxin from the foxglove – are all part of nature’s drugstore. Of the estimated 250,000 plant species on earth, only 2% have been thoroughly screened for potential medicinal use.

Not all plant-based medicines are found; some are grown. Clemson researchers are studying “biopharming,” a genetic technology that allows plants to grow medicines, such as insulin and vaccines. Business analysts predict that biopharming may generate new businesses and jobs in genetic research and development.

For information: Feng Chen, 864-656-5702,