An unusual collaboration between Mayo Clinic researchers and a shamanistic healer from the Pacific nation of Samoa has yielded up a potential new treatment for the bacteria that can cause diarrhea.The researchers were first made aware of the possible therapeutic applications of the South Sea plant extract after applying modern data-mining techniques to the book Ambonese Herbal, written by the naturalist Georg Eberhard Rumpf in 1650.Writing in The British Medical Journal, the researchers claim that their discovery validates the feasibility of using data mining techniques on historical texts to identify new drugs. "Natural products are invaluable sources of healing agents -consider, for example, that aspirin derived originally from willow bark, and the molecular basis of the anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agent TaxolTM was derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.
So it's not
so far-fetched to think that the contributions of an ancient text and
insights from traditional medicine really may impact modern public
health," explains Brent Bauer, of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and
Integrative Medicine Program.
The antiquarian book is an
account of the herbal healing traditions on the Indonesian island of
Rumphius' description of Atun kernels' therapeutic properties is
what modern medicine calls "antimotility agents," they stop diarrhea.
Writes Rumphius; "these same kernels... will halt all kinds of
diarrhea, but very suddenly, forcefully and powerfully, so that one
should use them with carein dysentery cases, because that illness or
affliction should not be halted too quickly; and some considered this
medicament a great secret, and relied on it completely."
The unusual research team
who worked on the discovery included a shamanistic healer from the
Independent State of Samoa, ethnobotanists from Hawaii who validated
the correct botanical specimens, a New York botanist who reconciled
ancient plant names with modern plant names and database experts from
"For thousands of years,
people around the world have lived intimately with botanical healing
agents and evolved effective healing traditions. Our work shows just
how much we can learn from them. But to make the most of what is fast
becoming lost knowledge, we have to respect, preserve and work with
traditional healing cultures," concluded co-researcher EricBuenz.......
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