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Cancer Survivor Fights to Save "Nature's Pharmacy"

April 26, 2010

CHICAGO - The venom of the Brazilian pit viper, the saliva of the Mexican Gila monster, and the bark of Bornean rainforest trees, all hold ingredients for life-saving medications. Half the new pharmaceutical drugs made in the last 25 years are made from "nature's pharmacy," but some say ecosystem destruction is threatening that supply.

Debbie Trujillo says she has survived breast cancer thanks to drugs derived from a yew tree, and she wants the U.S. to lead worldwide conservation efforts to save the habitat of Mother Nature's remedies.

"We can't really waste time on this; if we want to save these people, then we have to save these sections of rain forest and keep our oceans clean. I think the key to healing all of our ailments is somewhere here."

Trujillo says many of the most crucial species in "nature's pharmacy" are found in developing nations that are least able to fund conservation efforts.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, one in three Americans is living with a chronic condition that could be helped by medications derived from nature.

Jeff Wise, director of global conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, says many of the plants and animals used for medications live in rain forests or on coral reefs. He says half the rain forests worldwide and one-third of the coral reefs have already been destroyed, and the rate of destruction is increasing.

"It really is now or never; when the plants and animals that we get these compounds from go extinct in these areas, they never come back. "

Wise says these threatened species could hold the cure to many diseases, since only one percent of the world's species have been studied.

"Nature is much better at inventing these pharmaceutically-active compounds than we are. So, what we're really losing are future cures, future drugs for diseases actually that we may not even have encountered yet."

Congress is considering a bill that would establish a global effort to aid these developing countries in protecting their environments.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL