Shirt

Description (Brief)
The blockbuster cancer drug Taxol first became available in 1992 and has since been used in the treatment for ovarian, breast, and lung cancer, and for Kaposi’s sarcoma. Its active ingredient was discovered through a joint research project between the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which screened plant materials for their possible use as cancer drugs. In 1962 project researchers found that the bark of the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, contains an anti-cancer chemical. The process to isolate the chemical, however, required trees to be stripped of their bark and consequently die, a fact that concerned both environmentalists and drug manufacturers.
Environmentalists worried that large-scale harvesting of the trees would damage the trees’ natural habitat through clear-cutting and massive harvest of the slow-growing Pacific yews. The drug’s manufacturers realized that the current supply of natural Pacific yew was far from large enough to provide a sustainable source of bark for the continued production of Taxol over time. Slow growth and maturation rates of the yew made replacing natural sources through cultivation an untenable solution.
For these reasons, alternate sources of Taxol were investigated. Some scientists worked in the lab, trying to make the drug from scratch. Others, like microbiologist Gary Strobel, turned to the field, hoping to find a new natural source of the drug. Strobel wore this shirt on trips to the Himalayas when studying Taxus wallachiana, the Himalayan yew. Strobel did succeed in finding several natural alternate sources, all of them fungi which grew within yew and produced their own Taxol. He suggested growing these fungi in the lab and harvesting the Taxol they produced.
In the end, however, a sustainable source of Taxol came from a substance found in the needles of the European yew, Taxus baccata, which could be transformed into Taxol using a chemical reaction. Because needles could be harvested without killing the tree, this semi-synthetic way of making Taxol replaced bark as the commercial source of the drug. Later this process was replaced by simply growing the plant’s cells in the lab in large quantities and harvesting the Taxol they produced.
Sources:
Accession File
“Success Story: Taxol (NSC125973).” National Cancer Institute. Accessed online. http://dtp.nci.nih.gov/timeline/flash/success_stories/S2_Taxol.htm
“Biologist Gets Under the Skin of Plants—And Peers.” Richard Stone. Science. Vol. 296 No. 5573. 31 May 2002. p.1597.
Taxol Product Insert.
“2004 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award: Development of a Green Synthesis for Taxol Manufacture via Plant cell Fermentation and Extraction.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. http://www2.epa.gov/green-chemistry/2004-greener-synthetic-pathways-award
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
shirt
Physical Description
cotton flannel (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 78.8 cm x 40.7 cm; 31 1/32 in x 16 1/32 in
used
Himalayas
ID Number
1997.0356.02
accession number
1997.0356
catalog number
1997.0356.02
subject
Science & Mathematics
Health & Medicine
Biotechnology and Genetics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Biological Sciences
Biotechnology and Genetics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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