Australian scientists are tapping into the traditional knowledge of Aboriginal Elders to compile a database of medicinal plants that may hold the key to more effective antibacterial and antifungal treatments.
Researchers from Macquarie University's Indigenous Bioresources Research Group (IBRG) have worked closely with the Yaegl people in northern NSW to document their medicinal plant knowledge, and have also begun phase two of their study - examining the chemical and biological properties of the plants.
Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemist Associate Professor Joanne Jamie said the research aim was to conserve customary Aboriginal knowledge, and apply this to the discovery of new evidence-based alternative medicines.
"People in developing countries understand the value of traditional medicines - roughly 80 per cent of them see these customary medicines as their primary form of healthcare," Jamie said.
"In Australia we are only now beginning to regard traditional knowledge as a significant medicinal resource - the increase in microbial resistance, emergence of new diseases, side effects of medicines and high cost of drug development have forced us to take a fresh look."
Central to the success of the bush medicine research is the strong relationship between the researchers and the Elders, which has been forged over many years and has culminated in a collaborative partnership agreement to work together on the study.
PhD student in the University's Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences Jitendra Gaikwad has played a key role in the design of the database and has collated medicinal plant information from Yaegl Elders of Maclean and the surrounding region. He is now preparing to visit the Elders later on this month to identify further medicinal plants. He hopes to also test some of these for their biological properties.
"We have already found plants with significant antibacterial properties - plants that have traditionally been used to treat a wound or skin infection," Gaikwad said.
"The most amazing discovery though has been the people themselves — it's a complete change of culture for me. The Aboriginal people are very kind and knowledgeable."
The Macquarie University study has become a model for collaboration between Australian Aboriginal communities and research scientists. The University has worked closely with the Elders involved to identify ways that their communities can gain real benefit from the partnership - such as creating educational opportunities for Aboriginal high school students.
The IBRG's bush medicine study is funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, awarded to the Macquarie University team consisting of Dr Subramanyam Vemulpad, Associate Professors Joanne Jamie and Jim Kohen and Professor Shoba Ranganathan.
Publish Date: 19 Oct 2012