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$4.4million for Africa-US Medicinal Plants Partnership

8 December 2005


Missouri Botanic Garden and theKwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden are amongst the partners in a new NCCAM-funded research programme looking at the potential of traditional herbal medicine in combating AIDS and other major diseases.

Witha unique plant heritage estimated at over 30 000 higher plant species out of which approximately 3 000 species are used in traditional medicine, South Africa is in a favourable position to explore the traditional uses of plants to the full. The Cape alone has nearly 9 000 species and is said to be the most diverse temperate flora on earth . With such a rich biodiversity as well as a rich cultural heritage it is not surprising that there are many traditional users of plants.

How safe and effective these treatments are will be the focus of The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS), a collaborative research effort between the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. The center will be funded by a $4.4 million, 4-year grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health.

"The American and South African citizens have strong interests in complementary and alternative medicine practices, but little is known of their safety and effectiveness," said Bill Folk, senior associate dean for research in the School of Medicine, principal investigator of the grant and co-director of TICIPS.

U.S. research teams from a number of US insititutions will partner with Quinton Johnson, director of the South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute and co-director of TICIPS at three universities in South Africa, and South African traditional healers. Together, they will study the medicinal properties, safety and effectiveness of several African plants in use today by traditional healers. South Africa is home to more than 200,000 traditional healers who care for more than 27 million people.

"TICIPS is especially significant, since it presents the very first opportunity for medical doctors, scientists and traditional healers to internationally cooperate as equal partners in exploring indigenous African phytotherapies for AIDS, secondary infection and immune modulation," Johnson said. "Furthermore, TICIPS creates a unique bridge between Western and African medicine systems, with the aim of bringing hope, health and healing to all."

TICIPS goals are to:

  • Create a collaborative environment of trust, open communication and research;
  • Support scientifically rigorous and ethical studies of African phytotherapies and health care systems;
  • Train scientists to conduct the highest caliber research in complementary and alternative medical practices;
  • Promote conservation of plant biodiversity and protection of indigenous knowledge;
  • Communicate evidence for the safety and efficacy of indigenous phytotherapies and CAM to health care providers and the public; and
  • Advance the health and well-being of the African and American peoples.

The Center's first projects will examine two plants used widely in South Africa. One of those projects, led by Kathy Goggin of UMKC and Doug Wilson of UKZ-N, will investigate whether Sutherlandia, or Lessertia frutescens, is safe in HIV-infected patients and prevents wasting. A previous, small pilot study by TICIPS researchers studied the safety of Sutherlandia in healthy adults. This was the first study of its kind, according to Folk.

Other projects will focus on Artemisia afra, which is widely used to treat respiratory infections. There is suggestive evidence that A. afra might be useful in treating Tuberculosis, which will be explored by TICIPS researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston and the University of Cape Town. Another project will examine the plant's potential for preventing or treating cervical cancer. TICIPS researchers from Mizzou, Georgetown University, UKZ-N and the University of the Western Cape will collaborate on the project.

"A real strength of TICIPS comes from the contributions of colleagues outside of the life sciences. Communication is a strong component in order to let the public know what we find," Folk said. "Working with the MU School of Journalism and colleagues at the University of the Western Cape will ensure that our findings about the safety of these plants are distributed among the public, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world. Also, we enjoy a very strong partnership with the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the world's outstanding botanical centers. Nature has thousands of secrets that we have yet to discover. This is a big first step in uncovering some of those secrets and seeing how we can better understand these alternative medicines."

Links to related sites: find out about Sutherlandia frutescens


Participating Institutions:

      University of Western Cape, South Africa

      University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

    University of Cape Town, South Africa
    The South African Medical Research Council, South Africa
    University of Missouri-Kansas City, MO
    Georgetown University (GU), Washington, DC
    University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
      Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO

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