Revisiting the linkage between ethnomedical use and development of new medicines: A novel plant collection strategy towards the discovery of anticancer agents

J Med Plant Res. 2017 Oct;11(40):621-634. doi: 10.5897/jmpr2017.6485. Epub 2017 Oct 25.


The Vietnam-Laos International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG) based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) catalyzed a country-wide network of medicinal plant preserves (MPP) and medicinal biodiversity preserves (MBP) now established in ten provinces of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), which are relied upon as protected sources of ethnomedicines for local villagers and traditional healers. In collaboration with the Lao PDR's Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM), our ongoing P01 Program Project (Ohio State University) examined the anticancer bioprospecting potential for two of the most exhaustively inventoried of these sites: the Bolikhamxay MPP and the Xiengkhouang MBP. Guided by prior voucher specimens sourced from these preserves with an overwhelming emphasis on plants employed in traditional medicine, 201 distinct samples from 96 species were collected along with proper herbarium documentation. Aliquots of these plant samples were extracted in azeotropic ethanol and evaporated to dryness for initial biological evaluation. In six samples from six different species (2.99% of the collected samples, 6.25% of taxa) it was observed that extracts exhibited notable cytotoxicity against HT-29 colon adenocarcinoma cells. The wisdom behind the utilization of HT-29 cells in this preliminary biological screen is discussed. Furthermore, comparison of screening results based on longstanding considerations and ideological underpinnings of ethnobotanical vs. "random" biodiversity-based collection approaches is detailed herein. The results of this interdisciplinary study support the hypothesis that, by privileging the initial sample set in terms of human safety and pharmacological activity, ethnobotanically driven collection for biological screening efforts can produce leads unprecedented by the strict traditional usages of plants.

Keywords: Lao PDR; cancer; medicinal plants; traditional medicine.