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Mangrove bark dulls the pain

Wednesday, 23 June 2004 Judy Skatssoon

Freshwater mangrove

The bark of the freshwater mangrove, which is found in monsoonal areas, is used as a painkiller in Aboriginal medicine (Image: Len Webb Collection, Griffith University)

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Queensland researchers are working to develop a new pain-killing drug from a native Australian plant traditionally used by Aboriginal people.

Professor of chemistry at Griffith University Ron Quinn is identifying and testing compounds from the freshwater mangrove Barringtonia acutangula for their analgesic properties.

The mangrove, which is also known as the Indian Oak or Kandu almond, grows by creeks and lagoons and is distributed throughout east Asia, south-east Asia, eastern Africa, the south-west Pacific and northern Australia.

Quinn said he first learned of the plant’s analgesic potential after hearing about an Aboriginal man in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia whose finger had been bitten off by a crocodile.

“He used the bark of the tree, chewed it around in his mouth and then put it on the wound,” Quinn said.

It was unclear whether the benefit came from chewing the plant or using it as a poultice on the wound.

Quinn said researchers had isolated several compounds from the plant’s bark and tested them on rats.

One compound showed signs of being effective when administered orally.

“We started out looking at the crude extract and we’ve isolated some components of it and we’ve now tested a couple of these and found one of them is actually active in the animal model,” he said.

He said a A$174,500 (US$119,000) grant from the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council development funding, announced earlier this month, would enable more detailed testing of the plant and help assess its commercial potential.

A large-scale extraction and isolation process would obtain the compounds in large enough quantities to allow them to be pharmacologically evaluated as potential analgesic drugs.

“There’s an unmet need in management of pain so there’s a potential market opportunity,” he said.

“It will depend a bit on the precise mechanism and precise biology that we see.”

Quinn said the active compound appeared to be novel and structurally unrelated to opiate painkillers.

Quinn said Griffith University held a provisional patent on several compounds extracted from the plant and hoped to develop a drug under a joint agreement with the local Aboriginal people, who would receive 50% of any returns once the product was brought to market.

Human trials remain some years away.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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