April 27, 1995 in Nation/World

Life-Saving Plants Threatened Babbitt Visits Girl With Leukemia Treated With Plant Extract

Associated Press
 

Three years ago Jaclyn Buckley was diagnosed with leukemia. Today the 6-year-old girl has a 99 percent chance of living a long life because of a cancerfighting medicine derived from a rare wildflower.

An extract from the rosy periwinkle plant put her disease in remission, doctors say.

“What we have are children being cured with products from nature,” Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said Wednesday at Children’s Hospital, where Jaclyn was treated.

Rosy periwinkle, first discovered in Madagascar, is one of the many plant and animal species that could become extinct without intervention, and Babbitt said that must not happen.

Jaclyn, poster child for the Endangered Species Coalition, gave Babbitt a tiny periwinkle plant and said, “Save the Endangered Species Act.”

“I’m going to try,” replied Babbitt, who has been touring the country speaking against congressional efforts to weaken the law.

Congress is considering easing provisions of the law, which was passed in 1973. Opponents say the measure does too much damage to landowners and businesses.

The rosy periwinkle is the source of vincristine, a major treatment for leukemia, especially among children.

The medicine has been around for about a decade and was used from the start in treating Jaclyn, said her pediatrician, Kevin Browngoehl. She has been in remission for more than 18 months, the doctor said.

“The medicinal value of plants is extraordinary,” Browngoehl said. “Nearly one-quarter of prescriptions written in the United States today are based on substances derived from natural products.”

Taxol, a drug used in treating ovarian and breast cancers, comes from the Pacific yew; the heart medicine digitalis comes from purple foxglove; the wheat fungus ergot helped researchers produce an antiinflammatory antihistamine to treat allergies and motion sickness; and the Australian mulberry tree and the Cameroon vine tree produce AIDSfighting compounds.

“People who would weaken these laws that protect nature are willing to sacrifice lives,” Babbitt said.

Tom Eisner, a Cornell University biology professor who heads the Endangered Species Coalition, said that of the 250,000 flowering plants that exist, only 5 percent have been studied chemically.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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