TCS: A Race for Cures Before Extinction

Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

“We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage,
if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of
mutual toleration and self-interest.”

– Lester B. Pearson, Canadian statesman and diplomat


  • The Pacific yew, a slow-growing tree found in Pacific Northwest old-
    growth forests, was considered a “trash” tree and burned after clear-cutting forests. A substance in its bark — now marketed as Taxol® — has become a treatment for ovarian, breast, and lung cancer.

  • The rosy periwinkle provides the cure for Hodgkin’s disease and certain forms of leukemia. Chemicals extracted from the Rosy Periwinkle (Catharanthus rosea) increase the survival rate of children with leukemia from 20% to 80%. The periwinkle was on the brink of extinction due to deforestation until scientists discovered its medicinal value.

  • A compound called GsMTx4, from the venom of some tarantula species, may lead to new treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. About 40,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease annually, not including the thousands of cases that go undetected.

  • In 2002, diabetes affected an estimated 18.2 million Americans. An experimental drug derived from Gila monster saliva does seem to help people with type-2 diabetes gain control over their blood sugar. The compound triggers the release of insulin when blood sugar levels are too high. Much of the Gila monster’s habitat has been cleared for agriculture, leaving remaining populations in isolated fragments. Development and road construction also encroach on their habitat.

Since there’s at least a 50% chance that I may fall victim to Alzheimer’s sometime in the next 10 to 20 years, any progress in research on this disease is of personal interest to me.

  • In 2015, scientists began looking at a unique brain mechanism in Arctic ground squirrels during their near-stasis hibernation, which causes them to lose synapses during deep hibernation, and then regrow them as the ground squirrels re-warm. They experience hyperphosphoylation, something connected to Alzheimer’s, but in their brains it reverses without forming the tangles of tau proteins which damage brain functions in human beings.

For now, the Arctic ground squirrel is not in any need of conservation, but continued Global Warming could change that. This is one of the good news stories because scientists are already exploring possibilities, and aren’t yet racing against the extinction of their research subjects.

In the United States, 56 percent of the 150 most popular prescribed drugs are linked to discoveries of natural compounds found in the wild. Yet less than one percent of all plant species have been screened for potential pharmaceutical applications. At the current extinction rate, experts estimate that the Earth is losing one major drug every two years.

How many cures for “incurable” diseases are hidden in plants or animals on the brink of extinction that nobody has even looked at yet?

According to a report from the National Wildlife Federation: “Over the next 50 years, up to one third of the world’s plant and animal species may be lost forever.”

One more very important reason that we have to keep fighting to take back Congress in 2018, and the White House in 2020 — stopping the Republican onslaught on environmental and species protections, which may cause the extinction of a plant or animal that could otherwise have contributed the cure for a deadly cancer, or helped prevent some type of birth defect, or ended Alzheimer’s.

If humankind won’t save other living things for their own sake, will we save them to save ourselves?


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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