N. Brouwer, Q. Liu, D. Harrington, M. Collins, J. Kohen, S. Vemulpad, J. Jamie
This project is an unique collaboration between Aboriginal communities and researchers in the fields of Environmental Law, Indigenous Studies, Ethnobotany, Natural Products and Medicinal Chemistry and Microbiology. Its goals are to:
© David Horton, AIATSIS
All scientific data (ethnobotanical information and biological and chemical
studies) are shared with the communities. The acknowledgement of the
indigenous intellectual properties rights is ensured.
Approximately 25% of all pharmaceutical products worldwide are originated from traditional medicinal knowledge and there is widespread interest in developing new types of medicinal agents with greater potency and reduced side effects. Traditional Aboriginal knowledge is of key importance in such drug discovery activities. When using traditional medicinal plants in research, the success rate of isolating bio-active compounds is significantly higher than random screening.
The importance of traditional knowledge systems in the drug discovery process is exemplified by the isolation of artemisinin from the herb sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua or Qing Ho). This plant was used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for over 2,000 years for the treatment of fever and malaria, and was rediscovered by Chinese scientists in the 1970’s. The active compound, artemisinin, can be isolated from the leaves and is a fast acting and life-saving drug against malaria parasites and works even against the multi-drug resistant P. falciparum. Of 30 species of Artemisia, only A. annua was used in traditional Chinese medicine and is the only species that has antimalarial activity.
An example of an Australian traditional medicinal plant, is the kangaroo apple (Solanum):
Ethnobotany is the study of plant resources by indigenous societies, and includes plants used for food, fiber, timber, medicine or ceremony. This project focuses particularly on plants used for medicine and aims to fully document the knowledge of the involved communities. This is done by interviewing local Aboriginal people with specific knowledge of traditional medicinal plants. Plants are collected from the field, under the guidance of Aboriginal advisers, vouchered and taxonomically identified.
The ethnobotanical data of each community is documented and entered in separate databases. The databases contain information on:
Since these databases reflect traditional knowledge they are password protected with restricted access, based on the communities’ wishes.
Plants used by the communities that show significant medicinal potential are being investigated further for their biologically active compounds, using bio-assay guided fractionation. Particular attention is placed on plants traditionally used to treat:
Antimicrobial resistance is a major problem worldwide; it is reducing the therapeutic value of existing antimicrobials and makes the search for novel antimicrobial agents important. Depression and other neurological conditions are on the rise and new treatments would be of significant value.
There are numerous methods available to extract plant material:
Most importantly in this project however, is the preparation of the plant material in a way similar to the preparation in the communities, since this will validate the traditional use.
Extracts showing activity following the bio-assays will be subjected to chromatographic techniques such as: