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Garden shrub cancer hope

NEIGHBOURS fight protracted court battles over it, spending thousands of pounds in legal arguments about their light. It can grow by three feet a year and reach 60ft.

However, scientists in Manchester think it may be time to start being nice about leylandi, the fast-growing cypress plant widely blamed for blighting properties and blocking light. For they think the plant may contain a cure for cancer.

Dr Nick Lawrence at the chemistry department of the University of Manchester's Institute of Science and Technology (Umist), has already carried out preliminary tests which show that in test-tubes, extracts from the plant can kill off cancer cells.

Now he needs more samples to find out exactly what the compound is, and whether it might have therapeutic properties which could be exploited.

However, the last thing he wants is for every embittered householder glowering in leylandi shadow to hack it down and send it to him. Not yet, anyway.

"Yes, this is the plant that neighbours fight wars over," he said. "Our early tests using about a kilogram of plants gave interesting results. But we ran out of materials, so we've been looking for more."

In the tests, the plants are crushed and the extracted juices applied to cell cultures to see what effects they have. "If the extract has value as a cancer treatment, then we would need tons of it," Dr Lawrence said. The answer should emerge in the next six months.