The Medicinal Planet

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In recent years some conventional medicines such as anti-biotics have become less effective in treating diseases and infections. With an increasing human population worldwide, the need to discover new medicines for the benefit of human health will potentially become a major issue in the coming years. Many commercially available medicines today can trace their origins to compounds found in the natural world, yet many of those natural compounds are found in rare species, often in natural environments that are now vulnerable due to human activity. Are we in danger of losing these potentially valuable resources before they are even discovered? Monty Don explores this question through a field report from the Elan Valley in mid Wales where a tree lungwort, ravished by pollution and climate change, could provide a potential cure for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Across the world, pharmaceutical companies have begun to revisit the natural world for compounds that may prove beneficial to the future of human health. How many compounds can be sourced from the natural world is impossible to know as until they are discovered and their benefit is unknown, but with increased pressure from human activities in natural areas, what can be done now to ensure the survival of the unknown for future generations?

Producer : Andrew Dawes.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 27 Jan 2014 21:00

Professor Monique Simmonds OBE

Professor Monique Simmonds OBE
Professor Monique Simmonds holds the position of Director, Kew Innovation Unit, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Monique co-ordinates research into the economic uses of plants/fungi, their potential as cosmetics, pharmaceutical and agrochemical leads, and as sources of sustainably harvested medicines. She has been involved in international projects evaluating the medicinal and pesticidal properties of plants. These projects involve working with NGO’s, commercial and academic collaborators as well as the police. In addition, Monique’s team has developed chemical authentication methods to check the quality of plant-derived products being sold as medicines, cosmetics and functional foods. This includes the supply of good quality plants used in traditional Chinese medicine. She has a keen research interest in exploring and understanding the role plant diversity plays in maintaining sustainable environments and the relevance of plant-based solution to shaping business practises – Business shaped by nature.

Professor Marcel Jaspars

Professor Marcel Jaspars
Marcel Jaspars was an avid fan of Jacques Cousteau as a child and started diving at the age of 14. A degree and PhD in chemistry was followed by the realisation that he could couple his love of the marine environment with his skills in chemistry. In doing this, he has investigated marine life from many tropical nations in the world for their potential to provide new pharmaceuticals. He was appointed as lecturer at the University of Aberdeen in 1995 and was promoted to Professor in 2003. He is director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre which aims to realise the potential of marine bioresources for the discovery of new pharmaceuticals. More recently, Marcel has started to investigate organisms from the deepest and coldest parts of the oceans. He is project leader of PharmaSea, a multinational project funded by the EU to investigate the biomedical potential of organisms from deep and cold marine environments.

Tree Lungwort

Tree Lungwort
A tree lungwort in the Elan Valley of mid-Wales.

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