Drug Research / Herbalism
The oldest and most widely practiced form of medicine in the world is herbalism - the use of herbs and plants to treat disease. Research by herbal doctors and manufacturers relies on long established use and experience in practice: knowledge accumulated during past generations means that history has been one long clinical trial! Important examples of plant-derived medicines include the powerful painkiller morphine (from poppies), the antimalarial drug quinine (from the bark of the cinchona tree), the muscle relaxing agent curare (from the wourali root used by the Incas to paralyze their prey), and the antileukemia drug vincristine (from the rose periwinkle plant vinca rosea). Today, plants provide us with a quarter of our medicines.(14)
Post-mortem studies first linked diabetes with a damaged pancreas and also revealed a vital chemical imbalance in the brains of patients with Parkinson's disease. Despite their important contribution to the understanding of human disease, autopsy studies are declining.
An analysis of some of the main drugs used to treat cancer and heart disease, the principal causes of death in Western society, provides further evidence for the contribution of clinical investigation. For instance, most of the main classes of anticancer agents - the alkylating drugs, the antimetabolites, the antitumor antibiotics and hormonal drugs - were all developed from clues derived during human studies.(15) According to Dr Irwin Bross,(16) formerly of the Roswell Park Memorial Institute for Cancer Research in New York, "practically all the chemotherapeutic agents which are of value in the treatment of human cancer were found in a clinical context rather than in animal studies."
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