At the 'Healing Edge'

By Wagner, Daniel T. | Drug Topics, January 9, 1995 | Go to article overview
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At the 'Healing Edge'

Wagner, Daniel T., Drug Topics

There are still a precious few places on Earth where the fabric of life that God has weaved has been little altered by human hands. Where the primordial forest hugs up to the river's edge, and the plants, the animals, the insects, and the birds are largely unaware of the devastation that man has wreaked on the natural world. Where the only danger to life is that defined by Mother Nature herself--survival of the fittest. A place where harmony still exists between nature and the indigenous peoples who have lived on the land for thousands of years and take from it only what they need to survive.

Such a place is the Upper-Amazon Basin in Peru. A pristine rain forest of unequaled size and scope, spared from the logger's ax and the farmer's fires, it stretches from horizon to horizon like a vast ocean of green.

It was here, in October 1994, that joined the first international "Pharmacy from the Rainforest" workshop (see Cover Story, page 57). It was a precedent-setting field workshop and expedition that placed participants on the "healing edge" of innovative breakthroughs on plant drugs, medical botany, ethnobotanical research, and rain-forest ecology in the Amazon Basin, surely one of the earth's most biological diverse ecosystems.

Is it legitimate, though, to refer to rain-forest pharmacy in terms of the "healing edge," considering that today's mechanized, high-tech world of wonder drugs are all synthetical made in the laboratory? Then, too, the search for new plant-based drugs has had a relative lack of success in recent years. This is mainly due to the arduous manner of collecting specimens and samples, and the analysis involved in finding the medicinal properties of plants is a complicated and expense process.

But change is on the horizon. Technological developments have made easy, rapid, and cost-effective screening of plants possible.

The National Cancer Institute is one of the nation's premier facilities that is conducting large natural product screening programs.

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