The application of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for the treatment of a variety of diseases is an ancient and respected tradition, and while widely accepted in the Far East, is becoming quite popular in Western cultures as well. There has also been an increasing interest in isolating and characterizing the active chemical ingredients in Chinese herbal medicines to develop conventional Western pharmaceutical agents based on numerous recent successes. The two most prominent examples are the drugs Taxol (Paclitaxel), used to treat various cancers, and isolated from Taxux brevifola or the Yew Tree, and Artemisinia, used to treat malaria, and isolated from Artemisia apiacea or the Sweet Wormwood Herb. Over 5,000 plants and herbs have been recognized by the Chinese as having uses in TCM and thus the first drugs that have been developed literally only represent the tip of the iceberg.
Although the development of novel pharmaceutical agents from botanical sources is quite complex, it nonetheless follows a straightforward process. Botanical extracts are prepared from herbal plants known to have uses in TCM, and the individual chemical agents are separated and analyzed to identify the active ingredient. The promising pharmaceutical agents are next assayed to ensure that they have no toxicological issues and tested in animal models for the diseases they are intended to treat before initiating human drug trials. The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research (TCBMR) was created to spearhead this endeavor and represents a significant economic development opportunity for the State of Tennessee.