Scientists have successfully synthesized a compound which has anti-cancer properties in vitro, from laboratory chemicals. The substance, called maoecrystal V, was first isolated from the Chinese medicinal herb Isodon eriocalyx Hara in 1994. The results are published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society and accompanied by a press release on ScienceDaily, Dec. 12.
Synthesizing a naturally occurring compound is the laboratory equivalent to scaling Mt Everest. Synthetic chemistry, a field in which scientists reproduce natural and other substances from jars of chemicals in a lab, is very complex and advances of this nature are few and far between.
Samuel J. Danishefsky and Feng Peng explain that maoecrystal V occurs naturally in a plant growing in China’s Yunnan province. Practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine have used the herb, called Isodon eriocalyx Hara, for hundreds of years.
Scientists isolated maoecrystal V in 1994 and found that it has anti-cancer effects that warrant further examination, however, large amounts would be needed to do so and the herb contains only small amounts of the material. In one experiment, it took more than 26 pounds of dried leaves to produce 0.00017637 oz. of maoecrystal V. In 2010, the first group of scientists succeeded in making maoecrystal V in a lab. Now, a second group has found a new route to the potential anti-cancer compound.
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Danishefsky and Peng describe their approach as providing the basis for a synthesis that may help scientists develop a practical route to the substance for drug development and other research. It yielded a mixture of the two enantiomeric forms of maoecrystal V. They are pursuing several improvements, including a way to control the reactions to yield only a single enantiomer of the substance.
Feng Peng, Samuel J. Danishefsky. Total Synthesis of (±)-Maoecrystal V. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2012; 134 (45): 18860 DOI: 10.1021/ja309905j