Cancer-fighting medicinal plants focus of Science Cafe

MUSCAT: Medicinal plants play a critical role in today’s healthcare provision. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 10,000 plant species are used for medicinal purposes, mainly as traditional medicines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that 80 per cent of people in developing countries rely on traditional medicines, which are mostly of plant origin, for primary healthcare. But the use of medicinal plants is by no means restricted to developing countries; 25 per cent of prescription drugs in the US contain plant extracts or active principles prepared from higher plants.

Historically, plants were a vital source of raw material for medicines.

Later, techniques were developed to produce synthetic replacements for many of the medicines that had been derived from the forest.

And with the rise of drug resistant microorganisms, side effects of modern drugs and emerging diseases where no medicines are available, interest in plants as a source of new medicines has increased.

According to Dr Nadia al Saady, Executive Director, Oman Animal and Plant Genetic Resources Centre (OAPGRC) and organizer of Tuesday’s Science Café, Medicinal Plants session held at Dhofar University: “The importance of medicinal plants in primary health care” is gaining traction.

Anti-malarial drugs have been developed from the discovery and isolation of artemisinin from Artemisia annua L, a plant used in China for almost 2,000 years.

Scientists have found that parts of the African tulip tree and Secamone afzelli help heal wounds, and a species of the Himalayan yew tree is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast, ovarian, lung, prostate, esophageal and other cancers.”

However, the OAPGRC Executive Director warned that medicines for cancer could be lost as plants used in their preparation are facing extinction.

“Deforestation and over-collection are threatening the survival of up to 400 key plant species. Medicinal plants harvested from the wild remain of immense importance for the wellbeing of millions of people around the world and they need protecting,” explained Dr Al Saady.

The distinguished two-man Science Café panel of Dr Mohsin al Amri, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth, and Dr Hamid Ghaboub, OAPGRC, moderated by Sami al Asmi, discussed the need to ensure that wild medicinal plant populations do not come under threat. More effective co-operation among the institutions concerned with the use and trade of medicinal plants, including those from the healthcare, conservation and commercial sectors, is required to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and continued availability of medicinal resources.

“Omani farmers, entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical companies could all gain from the Sultanate’s reserves of indigenous medicinal plants if used sustainably and creatively. Indeed, this was one the key issues debated at Tuesday’s Science Café session,” explained the OAPGRC Executive Director.

The overwhelming message from the Science Café was the need to make sure we protect the natural wealth we have been blessed with and that future generations can also reap its benefits, pointed out Dr Al Saady.

Held on alternate months in English and Arabic, the OAPGRC Science Café is an informal event open to the general public.

The Science Café Series is an OAPGRC initiative designed to introduce Oman’s wealth of animal and plant genetic resources to the general public and share their possibilities and potential.

Always fascinating and thought-provoking, they are open to everyone — from members of the general public who are curious to learn more, to the research scientist who’d like to share knowledge.

SOURCE: OMAN DAILY OBSERVER

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