July 27 - Communities around Belgium are saving trimmings from hedges to be used in cancer-fighting drugs. Scientists use a chemical found in the plants to create drugs for chemotherapy. One entrepreneurial tree cultivator is helping to harvest the discarded trimmings. Jim Drury reports.
STORY: For most homeowners, common hedges like these provide privacy and decoration. But for cancer patients world-wide these plants are helping to provide life-extending treatments. Common to Belgium and the Netherlands, the taxus baccata hedge produces a chemical called baccatin which is used in drugs for patients with ovarian, breast, lung, and other common cancers. Noticing a huge demand for the shrubs from pharmaceutical companies, Belgian nursery owner Bart van Hulle has set up a nationwide hedge trimming recycling system. SOUNDBITE (English) TREE CULTIVATOR BART VAN HULLE, SAYING: "Eight years ago, there was one container park, and now we have all 300 container parks who are participating in the system. So they bring it to the container park, we collect it, and we donate a certain amount to cancer funds." The trimmings are sold to companies in India and China where the baccatin is extracted. The chemical is then sent to pharmaceutical companies in the US for manufacturing. A hedge 50 metres in length and a metre and a half high can produce enough baccatin for one chemotherapy treatment. Brussels oncologist Denis Schallier prescribes many baccatin-infused drugs and wants his countrymen to keep on trimming. SOUNDBITE (English) ONCOLOGIST AND PROFESSOR DENIS SCHALLIER, SAYING: "Baccatin is very important because it's the substance needed to put side chains on, and to make these useful drugs like Docetaxel and Paclitaxel and so on. So it's very important that we have as much baccatin as possible to make these active anti-drugs from it." After a rainy summer van Hulle expects to collect enough trimmings for 10,000 chemotherapy treatments, a helpful natural boost to the fight against cancer. Jim Drury, Reuters