Chinese Medical (CM) Plants

China is developing a library of authenticated traditional Chinese Medical (CM) plants for systematic biological evaluation –Rationale, methods and preliminary results from a Sino-American collaboration

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a type of herbal, natural health care system that ascends back at least 2,000 years to the year 200 B.C. TCM is “herbal” and “natural” because it stimulates the body’s own healing mechanisms and takes into account all aspects of a patient’s life, rather than just several obvious signs or symptoms. Over the past several decades, Eastern alternative medicine practices have continued to be adopted by conventional medical establishments in the U.S. and other Western nations. The Department of Complementary-Alternative Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina reports that according to a study of 3,200 physicians conducted by Health Products Research, more than 50 percent of physicians in the U.S. planned to begin or increase use of alternative medicines, including those rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), within the following year.

While the popularity for herbal therapies have increased globally in recent years, their efficiency, safety, mechanisms of action, potential as novel therapeutic agents, cost-effectiveness, remain controversial. Moreover, many dubious authorities have acrimoniously criticized the efficiency of herbal therapies for their lack of quality assurance and reproducibility of study materials, as well as a lack of demonstration of plausible mechanisms and dosing effects. In fact, there has always been the lack of comprehensive research on herbal therapies which would draw on the expertise of all relevant specialties.

Recently, United States and Chinese investigators with expertise in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), botany, chemistry and drug discovery, cooperated to establish a prototype library consisting of 202 authenticated medicinal plant and fungal species that collectively represent the majority of all commonly prescribed TCM herbal recipes. The library sits in Harvard University, and contains duplicate or triplicate kilogram quantities of each authenticated and processed species. It also holds the precious extracts and sub-fractions of each mother extract. Each species is collected at two or three sites, which are geographically hundreds of miles apart from each other. The plants are examined visually and chemically first, and then they are tested for heavy metals and pesticides contamination. Only the plants with least contamination would be selected to undergo the next authenticating process, which is the ethanol extraction and HPLC subfractionation in preparation for high throughput screening across a broad array of biological targets, including cancer biology targets. The collection of subfractions will be tested for biological activity individually and in combinations for traditional ethnomedical practices.

The research on plant-based medicines has a significant meaning to the medical field, and it is a great moment in recent history when the members of TCM and advocates of modern western medicine joined together. They worked together and learned from each other to provide new understandings for common good of millions of specialists and doctors. As the former chairman of People Republic of China addressed: “We should unite all the young and experienced medical professionals from both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western medicine to form a firmly united front to jointly strive for a great enhancement of the people’s health.” The library developed by both countries will definitely benefit numerous amount of patients by opening a new world of herbal therapies to them.

Ruoci Ning

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