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Health & Parenting

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Harrison Ford's Extraordinary Measures

In his latest movie, the actor and producer brings to life the story of a father's quest to cure his children of Pompe disease.

Environmental Agent continued...

And he puts his money where his mouth is. A board member of the environmental group Conservation International for nearly 20 years, this former Boy Scout "always loved nature. But once I made some money" -- in 2009, Forbes magazine ranked him as the wealthiest actor in Hollywood -- "I was looking to use it to have an effect. Money can buy science in support of conservation. It can teach indigenous people politics or a fisherman some other task when the fisheries he uses are overburdened."

Does this activist see progress being made in the protection of rainforests and coral reefs as the environmental movement's top priority? "There are a million little fights all coming together in one big battle," Ford answers passionately. "And there have been small victories. But not the big battle, not yet.

"We need a ground swell, to the point where the moral authority of it becomes so obvious that this is what we need to do."

Ford is particularly impassioned about the link between endangered ecosystems and our own health. Many of the medications we rely on were originally derived from plants and animals, some of them already threatened in the wild. Because of that, Conservation International works with indigenous communities around the world to help preserve natural habitats, including rain forests and coral reefs teeming with life.

The organization's health security adviser, Judy Mills, says, "Some of the most innovative leads for Alzheimer's and HIV/AIDS, and new antibiotics for infectious diseases -- to name just a few -- are all coming from threatened ecosystems. And we don't know what's coming down the pike. We could be destroying potential cures for diseases we don't even know about yet." In addition, Mills notes:

  • More than 50% of modern, or Western, medicines were initially derived from plants or animals. A few examples: Aspirin came from the bark of the willow tree. The cancer drug Taxol, used to treat breast, lung, and ovarian cancer, was created from the endangered Pacific yew plant. The active ingredient warfarin, derived from sweet clover, is a treatment for blood clots. The powerful painkiller Prialt, given to patients who cannot tolerate morphine, comes from the sea's cone snail. And drugs to treat childhood leukemia are found in the rosy periwinkle.
  • More than 90% of traditional medicines -- ancient cures from China, Japan, Korea, plus Tibetan Unani and Ayurvedic treatments -- come from plants and animals. These include ginseng for combating fatigue and stress as well as symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes. Bear bile has long been used to treat gallstones, hepatitis, and liver disease. Chinese Artemisia, a plant traditionally administered to fight fever and parasitic infections, is the main source for the new drug Coartem for cerebral malaria; it is expected to save more than 600,000 lives this year.

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