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The Plant-Based Solution To Antibiotic Resistance46:50Download

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With guest host Jane Clayson

With resistance to antibiotics rising, ancient remedies are getting a second look. Could plant-based drugs save us?

Dr. Quave in her laboratory at Emory University, where she directs drug discovery research on plant compounds in the search for the next generation of antibiotics. (Courtesy Dr. Cassandra Quave / Emory University)
Dr. Quave in her laboratory at Emory University, where she directs drug discovery research on plant compounds in the search for the next generation of antibiotics. (Courtesy Dr. Cassandra Quave / Emory University)

When antibiotics fail, what next?  We’re used to going to a doctor, taking antibiotics, and feeling better. But with superbugs, and new infections resistant to medicine, we’re running out of options.  My guest today says plants could help keep us healthy. That blackberries, wormwood leaves, and fig-tree bark might fight infections resistant to modern medicine. This hour On Point, looking to plants for the drugs of the future. — Jane Clayson

Guest

Cassandra Quave, ethnobotanist. Curator at the Emory University Herbarium. Assistant professor of dermatology and human health at Emory University. Member of the Emory University Antibiotic Resistance Center. (@QuaveEthnobot)

From The Reading List

New York Times Magazine: Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis? — "Ethnobotany is a historically small and obscure offshoot of the social sciences, focused on the myriad ways that indigenous peoples use plants for food, shelter, clothing, art and medicine. Within this already-tiny field, a few groups of researchers are now trying to use this knowledge to derive new medicines, and Quave has become a leader among them. Equally adept with a pipette and a trowel, she unites the collective insights of traditional plant-based healing with the rigor of modern laboratory experiments. Over the past five years, Quave has gathered hundreds of therapeutic shrubs, weeds and herbs and taken them back to Emory for a thorough chemical analysis."

The Guardian: Chinese actor Xu Ting dies after choosing traditional medicine over chemotherapy — " Confronting photos of the bruised and swollen body of the Chinese actor Xu Ting widely circulated after her death have been used to highlight the dangers of using traditional Chinese therapies over conventional medicine for treating cancer. In July Xu, 25, announced on the Chinese social media website Weibo she had lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system that best responds to chemotherapy as a first-line treatment."

Slate: Testing Traditions — "How can an organization dedicated to improving the health of the world’s populations in the 21st century turn a blind eye to the medical evidence on herbal remedies? The answer to that question is hidden among numerous factors that influence the use of these products, including the commercial, cultural, and political forces at play. The short answer is that when it comes to traditional medicine, WHO seems to ignore its insistence on evidence-based science in favor of traditional and local support for these remedies based on considerations quite apart from the science."

See Examples Of Traditionally Medicinal Plants

Ginkgo, or maidenhair tree, has a long history of use documented in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been used in supplements to support cognitive function and also as a food. (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
Ginkgo, or maidenhair tree, has a long history of use documented in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been used in supplements to support cognitive function and also as a food. (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
St. John’s Wort is used throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean to treat skin ailments. The flowering parts are steeped in olive or sunflower oil until the oil turns red, and then topically applied to burns and various skin conditions. (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
St. John’s Wort is used throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean to treat skin ailments. The flowering parts are steeped in olive or sunflower oil until the oil turns red, and then topically applied to burns and various skin conditions. (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
Different parts of the elmleaf blackberry are used as a food, a remedy for hair loss and skin infection in the Mediterranean. Dr. Quave and colleagues have discovered that this plant produces compounds that prevent some bacteria from sticking to surfaces in biofilms, a major contributor to antibiotic resistance.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
Different parts of the elmleaf blackberry are used as a food, a remedy for hair loss and skin infection in the Mediterranean. Dr. Quave and colleagues have discovered that this plant produces compounds that prevent some bacteria from sticking to surfaces in biofilms, a major contributor to antibiotic resistance.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
The European Chestnut, also known as the Sweet Chestnut, is not only a valuable source of food, but the leaves are also used in traditional medicine to counter skin inflammations. Quave and colleagues have discovered that compounds found in the leaves block bacterial communication pathways, making the bacteria less toxic.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
The European Chestnut, also known as the Sweet Chestnut, is not only a valuable source of food, but the leaves are also used in traditional medicine to counter skin inflammations. Quave and colleagues have discovered that compounds found in the leaves block bacterial communication pathways, making the bacteria less toxic.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
Mayapple has a long history of traditional use in Native American medicine. Today, compounds from this plant are used to treat a few different forms of cancer.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
Mayapple has a long history of traditional use in Native American medicine. Today, compounds from this plant are used to treat a few different forms of cancer.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
The seeds of the castor bean plant has a long history of use in the production of medicinal castor oil. This plant is also the source of ricin, a powerful poison.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)
The seeds of the castor bean plant has a long history of use in the production of medicinal castor oil. This plant is also the source of ricin, a powerful poison.  (Courtesy Cassandra Quave)

This program aired on September 20, 2016.

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