This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
The leaves of the Madagascar periwinkle plant, Vinca Rosea, contain a powerful anti-cancer drug. In 1958, chemist Charles Beer and Dr. Robert Noble discovered and isolated it. The Western University researchers’ discovery was serendipitous: Noble received 25 leaves of the plant from his brother, who was also doctor. His brother had in turn received the leaves from one of his patients, who told him periwinkle tea was popular in Jamaica for treating diabetes.
Called vinblastine, the drug turned out to be one of the most useful chemotherapeutic agents, particularly for managing Hodgkin’s disease and testicular cancer. It is also used to treat certain blood disorders.