Researchers are developing a way to make a pain reliever from trees

Written By Mark

For centuries, traditional medicine has used trees and plants in the manufacture of medicines, and to this day they still constitute a valuable resource in its manufacture, as many medicines are extracted from plant sources, and plants produce a wide range of chemical compounds that have been shown to have therapeutic properties.

Examples of medicines extracted from plants include:

  • Aspirin: It is derived from the bark of the willow tree, and is used to relieve pain, reduce fever, and reduce inflammation.
  • Taxol: It is a chemotherapy drug derived from the bark of the yew tree, and is used to treat ovarian, breast, and lung cancer.
  • Quinine: It is derived from the bark of the eucalyptus tree and is used to treat malaria.
  • Morphine: It is derived from the opium poppy and is used to relieve severe pain.
  • Artemisinin: It is derived from the sweet wormwood plant and is used to treat malaria.

In this direction, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently developed a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to make painkillers and other valuable products from plants instead of oil.

According to the statement issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison published on the Physorg website, the study is based on a patented technology for manufacturing paracetamol using biomass from poplar trees, whose biomass the team of scientists succeeded in converting into crystalline paracetamol and other high-value products. Which indicates the diversity of the process.

This discovery is also greener for one of the world’s most widely used medicines and other chemicals, and more importantly, it could provide new sources for making cellulosic biofuels (derived from non-food plant fibres) cost-competitive with fossil fuels. It is the main driver of climate change.

The paracetamol or acetaminophen is a drug with analgesic properties, Close-up of doctor holding a pill container

A previous invention for the production of paracetamol

Analgesic painkillers work in different ways on the peripheral and central nervous systems. Painkillers differ from narcotic drugs that temporarily eliminate feeling completely. Among these painkillers is paracetamol or acetaminophen, which is approved as a widely used analgesic and antipyretic, and is extracted from the tar that remains at the bottom of a tower. Distillation following the fractional refining of petroleum, which is the heaviest petroleum product and has the highest boiling point, and was used in the process of paving roads.

In 2019, Stephen Carlin of the Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and John Ralph, a professor of biochemistry at the same university, showed; How can paracetamol be manufactured from a compound in poplar trees using a known chemical reaction?

The researchers obtained a patent for a method for manufacturing paracetamon from a natural compound derived from plant material. This approach offers a renewable alternative to the current manufacturing process that uses chemicals derived from tar. It also creates a useful product from an abundant but difficult to control component of plant cell walls called Lignin, which is a very complex polymer.

Empty freeway with poplar trees

Painkiller from trees

According to a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in their new invention, the Carlin team has improved the process of manufacturing paracetamol in addition to making other medicines, textile dyes, and biodegradable plastics, a group of products that can support dozens of small bioproducts that feed larger products.

“We did research and development to extend the invention we made in 2019 to make it more achievable,” says Steven Carlin, who led the new research.

The paracetamol molecule made from trees consists of a six-carbon benzene ring with two chemical groups attached. Poplar trees produce a similar compound in lignin called p-hydroxybenzoate, which is part of the cell wall that binds plant sugars together. A natural substance found in many plants and some insects. It can also be manufactured for use in cosmetics, medicines and food.

Lignin is a complex chemical compound that is often extracted from wood. It is a component of the cell wall of plants and is full of valuable aromatic compounds that can replace many petrochemicals, as well as produce plant fuel.

According to the study, it turns out that it is relatively easy to separate the compound “p-hydroxybenzoate” produced by poplar trees, and then convert it into paracetamol.

New innovation horizons

According to a statement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this innovation not only simplifies the production of paracetamol, but also opens the door to the manufacture of many biodegradable medicines, dyes, textiles and plastics.

“With the method used in this innovation, we can make pigments like black ink, or polymers that can be used in textiles or materials applications, or turned into adhesives or things like that, so poplar trees can be considered to have a huge market,” says Carlin. And great value.”

Carlin adds: “By recycling the product again in a continuous reactor, scientists succeeded in converting 90% of the raw material into paracetamol, which was extracted using a cheaper method than traditional purification techniques, as the yield of the raw material can be raised to 99%. This is based on “The process is primarily water-based, green solvent-based, and continuous, making it ideal for industrial applications. Additionally, this efficient and sustainable method is consistent with efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and promote a more environmentally friendly approach to pharmaceutical production.”