Can a Tree Grown in Alabama Hold the Key to the Bird Flu Drug Shortage? - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Can a Tree Grown in Alabama Hold the Key to the Bird Flu Drug Shortage?

The American Chemical Society says a tree grown in the South, including Alabama, may be an important source of a chemical needed to make a drug that is needed and in short supply.

Chemists say the sweet gum tree could help lessen the shortage of the bird flu drug Tamiflu.

The sweet gum tree bears a fruit that contains shikimic acid. The acid is used to make a generic drug called oseltamivir, known by its commercial name - Tamiflu. Tamiflu is used to fight many types of flu viruses, including the H5N1 strain known as bird flu.

Experts fear there will not be enough Tamiflu to go around if a worldwide pandemic occurs. The shikimic acid now used in the drug comes from the Chinese star anise. However, the supply of the acid is dwindling due to the high demand.

At a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Atlanta Researchers from the Claremont Colleges in California were optimistic.

"Our work gives the hearty sweet gum tree another purpose, one that may help to alleviate the worldwide shortage of shikimic acid," says study leader Thomas Poon, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry from the W.M. Keck Science Center at The Claremont Colleges in Claremont, Calif. "They have lots of potential for fighting bird flu."

"The difference is that sweet gum trees are found in at least 39 states, and each tree bears thousands of seed pods every year," says Poon. "There are a lot of sweet gum seeds out there."

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