Pharmacognosy, the science of medicinal plants, was born in the nineteenth century from rich traditions of plant remedy use in folk medicine and the historical clinical experience of officinal medicine. Numerous plant species have been reputed by ethnomedicines from around the globe to possess antitumor properties, alleviate symptoms of disease and improve conditions of cancer patients. Systematic study of medicinal plant anticancer properties began in the second half of the twentieth century with the development of stable cell lines. In the 1950th and 1960th, extensive screening of mytotoxic and antiproliferative properties was performed on a multitude of plant compounds in search of agents that could efficiently suppress cell growth. Mitotoxic alkaloids vinblastine and vincristine, and several other plant compounds identified in these studies were introduced into clinical practice for the treatment of haematological and solid tumors. However, the overall outcome of this massive screening was largely disappointing. Only a fraction of ‘anticancer’ plants displayed high antiproliferative activity on tumor cells in culture, while activities of the vast majority of plant metabolites turned out to be low, as compared to those of chemically synthesized drugs.
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