Monthly Archives: April 2010

References on Natural Medicinal Plants

We will be placing these references in a more organized format in the future.

1. R. Fansworth, “Screening plants for New Medicines,” in “Biodiversity”, Part II; Washington DC: Academy Press, 1989; pp. 83-97.

2. P. P. Principe, “The Economics and Significance of Plants and their Constituents as Drugs,” in “Economic and Medicinal Plant Research”, H. Wagner, H. Hikino and N. R. Farnsworth (eds.); New York Academic Press, 1989.

3. W. V. Reid, “Biodiversity Prospecting: Using genetic resources for sustainable development”, Washington DC: World. Resources Institute, 1993.

4. Lewis, Walter Hepworth. “Medicinal botany: plants affecting human health/Walter H. Lewis. Memory P.F. Elvin-Lewis-2nd ed. 2003. John Wiley & Son Inc., NJ.

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Non-wood Medicinal Plants

Here are a few examples of ancient medicinal plants which have proved beneficial as modern drug formulations.

1. Periwinkle

Catharanthus roseus is indigenous to Madasgascar. The leaves and roots have been used in traditional therapies. Screening assays of the Madagascar rosy periwinkle in tissue culture have revealed that the plant holds several alkaloids, some of which are effective against different types of cancer. The pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly commercialized Vincristine and Vinblastine obtained from the alkaloids isolated from the cells of the Madagascar rosy periwinkle grown in tissue culture. Vincristine has proved quite effective in childhood leukemia, and reducing fatalities. Vinblastine is prescribed to patients with Hodgkins disease.

2. Ipecac

Cephaelis ipecacuanha or Brazilian Ipecac is indigenous to Brazil and cultivated in India and Malaysia. C. acuminata or Nicaragua, Panama or Cartagena Ipecac is indegenous to Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia. It has been used in traditional cultures to treat amoebic dysentery, with a protozoan culprit. Modern techniques have shown that the active ingredient emetine is effective against the amoebic dysentery protozoa and an effective drug was developed with widespread use. However, the protozoan evolved and became resistant to this modern emetine drug. However, the traditional whole natural plant therapy continued to be largely effective against amoebic dysentery, as it had been for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of West Bengal, India. They could not afford the modern drug and had continued to use the traditional whole natural ipecac plant therapy.

What qualities does whole, natural plant therapy possess that are not transferred when only the active ingredient is used in isolation? How does one prevent evolution of ancient disease causing protozoan?

In its natural Brazilian habitat C. ipecacuanha, considered a threatened species is known to propagate by vegetative multiplication. Plants regenerated from tissue culture have grown well in the field and 25% have produced flowers within a year (2008). Cultured, genetically transformed roots have yielded ipecac alkaloids cephaeline and emetine.

Historically, ipecac syrup has played a role in treatment of poisoning. Ipecac over-the-counter abuse can be dangerous and there have been calls to have stronger labeling warning that this drug could be deadly although if one stops using it, the symptoms could be reversed.

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Biodiversity and Intellectual Property

The TRIPs agreement has provisions to increase protection of intellectual property rights of developing countries and emerging markets. It has been expensive to implement sometimes costing $60 billion to the least developed country. Despite the UN convention of biodiversity, some developing countries have argued that biopiracy and bioprospecting are continuing to cause underpayment of potential royalties. Abdullah and Jusoff(2009) have discussed how to value a commercial patented contribution of a company versus the original donor knowledge from an underdeveloped country.

Economists Lisa Cook and Chaleampong Kongcharoen of the Michigan State University (August 2009) found that there is increased activity in protecting intellectual property in and by developing countries after laws related to intellectual property have been introduced (evidence from 177-2007).

The traditional herbalist cannot patent the herbal properties of an entire plant that is used for naturally treating a disease. However, a scientist can isolate the active compounds such as alkaloids or phenols or provide a formulation for a preparation which is effective for¬†treating the same disease and obtain a valid patent. The scientist’s patent rights now prevent even the original herbalist who share knowledge so generously from using that active compound or formulation to treat the same disease. The plant

International communities are beginning to question this practice. Is it ethical for scientists from developed countries to go to an underdeveloped indigenous community to obtain ancient healing knowledge which is used in screening assays to isolate the active ingredient? The resulting drug can get patent protection and has a greater chance to succeed through clinical trials, and become a multimillion dollar product.  It will also be too expensive for the developing country which provided the knowledge and for the other developing countries which also have used the plant traditionally but did not share the knowledge. Not all people in a developing country have access to their herbalists and most educated generations prefer and trust modern drugs more than their traditional healers. We will be providing in the future more detailed examples of such situation and how some institutions are collaborating with local governments and communities in providing solutions for this scenario.

There are various viewpoints. Is it exploitation to mine the knowledge of the ancient elders of indigenous tribes? Is it scientific progress to seek out the active ingredients in traditional herbal whole plant therapies? It has been argued the issues of public health, IP and the policing of counterfeit medicine cannot be separated.

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Hello world! Announcing Pursue Natural April 2010

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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