Scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations have made life easier for everyone. In all of these developments, research has been the backbone and serves as the agent of every transformative change we experience and enjoy today.
One of the areas that have greatly improved yet still need further attention is health research. In the Philippines for instance, thousands of Filipinos are suffering from cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, and other lifestyle-related diseases. In fact, some of the leading causes of death in the country are heart diseases and diabetes.
To help address this issue, USC Professor Patrick John Y. Lim is leading an interdisciplinary group of researchers who are studying how extracts from local plants can be used as herbal supplements that can lower blood sugar, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Since the country has rich vegetation, these plants can be found in many areas around the archipelago. Using a biodiversity approach, teams from the University’s Center for Social Research and Education gather information from traditional herbalists in Cebu, Bohol, Masbate, and Romblon. The identified plants then undergo intensive studies at USC’s Tuklas Lunas Development Center (TLDC), which is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and DOST’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD).
Finding the right plants has its own set of challenges. In order to be sure of its efficacy, the researchers need to observe stringent measures. “Our strategy follows the DOST PCHRD herbal track, where we use enzyme-based assays to determine if certain plants have the desired bioactivities. This allows us faster throughput in our screening,” said Queenie Marie A. Maquilang, a chemist and one of the project leaders of USC TLDC.
When the bioactivities have been established, the next crucial step is ensuring that the products are safe and non-toxic. “It is important to determine not only the effectiveness of the plant extracts, but also that these are safe to use for human consumption,” opined biologist Paul John L. Geraldino, who leads the toxicity studies at the center.
The next process involves formulation and animal studies. Spearheading this is pharmacist Gerard Lee L. See, who said that “correct dosages have to be determined and the plant extracts have to be mixed with the appropriate excipients so that they can be packaged in capsules or as tea.”
Finally, “the entire process from extraction to formulation has to be standardized,” added chemist Angel Lyn Kristin C. Tan, “that way, even if we use different batches of plants, the product has the same level of effectiveness and safety.”This research is highly relevant today especially since people with comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension are highly prone to the COVID-19 virus. Fortunately, herbal supplements in tea or capsule forms should be formulated later this year, signaling the next steps that include upscale in production as well as clinical trials. USC TLDC already has one tea preparation ready for pre-clinical tests. Interested collaborators for these succeeding phases may contact Prof. Lim, USC TLDC’s program leader.
by Syrine Gladys Podadera