Wednesday, 21 September 2011

US Looks to India for Research on Medicinal Plants for Cancer Cure

By Syed Akbar
With more and more health-conscious Americans turning to plant products 
for their daily needs, the United States is now looking towards the ancient 
Indian systems of herbal medicine to unravel the secrets of cure hidden in 
herbs native to sub-continent.
A team of American researchers visited Hyderabad early this week to chalk 
out a strategy with local scientists to develop new medicinal products from 
natural sources like plants and herbs. America does not have traditional 
medicine while India has a heritage of natural medicinal products that trace 
back in history to more than 5000 years.
The American scientists will utilise the traditional knowledge of herb-based 
Indian medicinal systems like Ayurveda, Unani and Sidda and explore their 
curative properties as part of their project to validate the medicinal properties 
of the herbs grown on Indian soil. The emphasis will be on new herbal drugs 
for cancer, malaria and other life-threatening diseases, besides natural 
pesticides for agricultural use.
The demand for consumer products derived from plants, herbal products, 
botanicals, dietary supplements, phytomedicines and nutraceuticals, 
dramatically increased in the US in the past five years. But, the quality of the 
products that are on the marketplace is highly variable and neither the 
consumer nor the healthcare professional is able to distinguish between high 
and low quality products.
"India has a rich tradition of herbs and herbal products. But many of them 
lack scientific validation. Our research collaboration with the Americans will 
help us understand these natural products in a more scientific way," says Dr 
JS Yadav, director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.
The IICT and the National Centre for Natural Products Research, University 
of Mississippi, have tied-up to discover new drugs from natural sources. 
While India provides its rich and varied herbarium to the Americans, the 
latter will revalidate the medicinal properties of Indian herbs for effective use 
for the benefit of humanity at large.
Over the years, natural products have been the mainstay of drug discovery 
programme. Although several other systems have come into being, desired 
results could not be obtained. Hence the focus is again shifted to natural 
products, says Prof Larry Walker, director of NCNPR, USA.
Natural products are currently used across the world as herbal drugs, dietary 
supplements and neutraceuticals. With increase in demand for the natural 
products, big pharma companies from across the globe have once again 
shifted their attention towards natural products and increased their efforts 
towards finding new bioactive molecules from them.
According to Prof  Ikhlas Khan, director, FDA programme, USA, natural 
products offer a vast and virtually unlimited source of new agents for both 
pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries. "As part of the MoU signed 
between IICT (CSIR) and NCNPR, we are conducting basic and applied 
multidisciplinary research to discover and develop natural products for use as 
pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and agrochemicals, and to understand 
the biological and chemical properties of medicinal plants," he points out.
The Indo-US research focus will be on discovering new drugs for unmet 
therapeutic needs such as cancer and infectious diseases, improving the 
quality and safety of botanical dietary supplements, and discovering new, 
effective agrochemicals that will not harm the environment. It will also target 
on discovering bioactive natural products, developing novel technologies and 
processes that facilitate the discovery of bioactive natural products and 
providing research based information on plant-derived products with 
medicinal or agricultural applications.
Prof Walker says that emphasis will be on agents that control certain 
infectious diseases, cancer and immune disorders. Chemical constituents 
responsible for biological effects are identified and then either isolated and 
purified in the search for new single entity pharmaceutical ingredients, or 
characterised and standardised in the search for new multicomponent 
botanical products.
Current products include the discovery and development of antifungal agents 
for life-threatening infections, anti-cancer agents that target specific critical 
processes in the cancer cell, antibiotics effective against bacteria that are 
resistant to many current antibiotics, new drugs for tuberculosis, malaria and 
other tropical parasitic diseases, antioxidants for cancer prevention, 
immunostimulatory botanicals, anti-inflammatory botanicals, and the 
development of Dronabinol Hemisuccinate suppositories to control nausea 
due to chemotherapy and for pain management.
"Our goal is to identify botanical products with the potential to improve 
human health and to conduct applied research that will enhance the safe and 
proper use of botanical products by heatlhcare professionals and consumers," 
says Prof Khan.
Although the science of pharmacognosy is enjoying a vigorous renaissance 
due to the widespread use of herbal medicine and natural products as 
supplements, Dr Yadav feels that challenges are being faced to authenticate 
and standardise these products.
On the other hand re-emerging diseases require new approaches and 
solutions. As history indicates, the best source for new chemical entities is 
the natural source. "In order to explore full potential of natural products the 
collaborative research is needed," he says.
"Our natural products research effort is a broad, multidisciplinary, integrated 
programme with three major emphasis areas: the discovery and early 
development of potential new drugs and agrochemicals from natural 
products; the understanding and science-based characterisation of botanical 
products used as dietary supplements; and research on medicinal plants, the 
production and processing of their pharmaceutical actives, and their potential 
for the development of alternative crops", observes Prof Walker.

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