Medicine and the Rainforest

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Medicine and the Rainforest

The rainforest supports millions of plant, animal, and insect species - a virtual library of chemical invention. In these archives, drugs like quinine, muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs are found. More importantly, are the new drugs still awaiting discovery - drugs for AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's, just to mention a few.
Experts estimate that we are losing 137 plant, animal, and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.

  • Currently, hundreds of prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. And while 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants in the rainforests have actually been tested by scientists.

  • The U.S. National Cancer Institute has identified over 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells. 70% of these plants are found in the rainforest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today's cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rainforest.

  • Two drugs obtained from a rainforest plant known as the Madagascar periwinkle, now extinct in the wild due to deforestation of the Madagascar rainforest, has increased the chances of survival for children with leukemia from 20 percent to 80 percent. Think about it -- 8 out of 10 children are now saved rather than 8 of 10 children dying from leukemia!

  • In 1983, there were no U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers involved in research programs to discover new drugs or cures from plants. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical companies and several branches of the US government, including the National Cancer Institute, are engaged in plant research projects for possible drugs and cures for viruses, infections, cancer and even AIDS.

Examples of pharmaceuticals that are derived from plants within the rainforest:

  • Curare (muscle relaxant)

  • Diosgenin (birth control pills, hormones, steroids, asthma and arthritis treatment)

  • Quinine (malaria and pneumonia treatment)

  • Reserpine (sedative, tranquilizer)

  • Strophantus (heart disease treatment)

  • Strychnine (emetic, stimulant)

Medicine and the Rainforest

Further Resources

Searchable Keywords:

  • rainforest

  • cancer cures

  • cancer treatments

  • pharmaceuticals

  • disease treatments

  • tropical plant derivatives

  • botanicals

  • chemotherapy


  • Welcome to the Rainforest:

  • Medicinal Treasures of the Rainforest:

  • Natural Products Branch of the National Cancer Institute:

  • Rainforest Alliance:

Current as of 9/04

Links Disclaimer: These references are offered as educational resources. AALAS does not maintain these sites and is not responsible for information contained therein or the availability of these sites now or in the future.

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science

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