Installed artworks: Day 8 – The Yew Tree

yew tree with red berriesThe evergreen Yew with its dark green, needle-like leaves and red berries are toxic to humans and as a result they were identified as the trees of death but were also seen as a symbol of the transcendence of death due to their longevity. The project team were particularly interested in the Yew tree because of the fact that such a highly toxic tree also contained key medicinal components in the fight against various forms of cancer. Compounds found in the bark are nowadays manufactured chemically in the development of the Taxol drug.

Natural-yew-tree-bark

To follow find images taken by Clodagh Dooley with the Scanning Electron Microscope.

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The final artwork is a hand etched representation of one of the wonderful images created by Dooley on a sheet of fluorescent yellow perspex.  See SEM image below.

3.782um max deviation

The artwork itself is to be found attached to the gates of the railings, which surround the triangular section of the physic garden. The artist chose the gate as the site to install the work because for her it symbolised the entrance and exit point along the boundary of the garden. This reflected her ongoing interest in engaging with notions of the skin as an in-between space between the inside and outside of the body, where skin pores play a vital role in excreting waste products and protecting against bacteria and pathogens. This is followed through in her interest in the breathing pores, the soma on the bark of the Yew tree, images of which were hand etched and drilled into a section of yellow perspex.  To follow are a selection of SEM images of these soma. 

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Also included in the artwork are sections of medical tubing filled with yellow paint, which trace through the drilled breathing holes and intertwine around each other. This is not unlike how the Yew tree’s trunk avoids succumbing to disease and splitting under the weight of advanced growth by growing upwards and twisting it’s root structure in and around itself for support.

yew tree twisted roots

Finally see below image of installed artwork.

Olivia Hassett Yew tree artwork lo res

Yew and Chemotherapy drug Taxol

 

Peeling-Pacific-Yew-Taxus-007

Certain compounds found in the bark of yew trees were discovered by Wall and Wani in 1967 to have efficacy as anti-cancer agents. The precursors of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (taxol) was later shown to be synthesized easily from extracts of the leaves of European yew, which is a much more renewable source than the bark of the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) from which they were initially isolated. This ended a point of conflict in the early 1990s; many environmentalists, including Al Gore, had opposed the destructive harvesting of Pacific yew for paclitaxel cancer treatments. Docetaxel can then be obtained by semi-synthetic conversion from the precursors.

Paclitaxel chemotherapy drug from yew

Paclitaxel is in the taxane family of medications. (PTX), sold under the brand name Taxol among others, is a chemotherapy medication used to treat a number of types of cancer. This includes ovarian cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer and panc cancer. It works by interference with the normal function of microtubules during cell division. It is given by injection into a vein. There is also an albumin bound formulation.

Paclitaxel was first isolated in 1971 from the Pacific Yew and approved for medical use in 1993. It is on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. The wholesale cost in the developing world is about 7.06 to 13.48 USD per 100 mg vial. This amount in the United Kingdom costs the NHS about 66.85 pounds. It is now manufactured by cell culture.