Though we’ve been long equipped in the ways of alternative medicine, new research has been published showing its benefit to minor health woes.

A group of scientists from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has been researching the use of drugs in a combination of chemistry, biotechnology, mathematics, computer power and five thousand year old ancient practices in Chinese medicine.

They have called their herbal remedy testing a “quantitative-pattern-activity-relationship (QPAR), which is a way to investigate and verify the quality and health benefits of traditional herbs.

We already know that Western pharmacology focuses on purified chemical compounds, and researchers are discovering ways to find similar unique properties in herbs.

According to Professor Chau Foo Tim from the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology, “Information-rich pattern called chromatographic fingerprint were used to prove the authenticity of a medicinal plant. Our research team has further utilized the ‘big data’ three dimensional (3D) fingerprints to give a good presentation of active ingredients and bioactivities that allow scientists to excavate any healing power from a mix of compounds.”

Prof. Chau, along with Dr Daniel Sze from the Department of Health Technology and Informatics, have been working on combining both types of medicine on a completely new drug classification and rating standard, which they hope to use to establish a scientific link between traditional herbs and various diseases.

This new standard that they are developing will, for the first time, link medicinal properties to cells, genes and proteins that trigger or contribute to a disease. “This is an innovative framework that quantifies the effect of traditional herbs would have on human health and common diseases on a sound scientific basis. QPAR can be used to verify how well Ganoderma can boost immunity and give a rating,” Dr Sze explained.

If their research is successful, it completely simplifies the rest of the work that needs to be done; from here, scientists will only have to do laboratory tests, build simple databases, and fine out the active ingredients in the future. The QPAR also uses mathematical procedures to make predictions and algorithms based on balancing positive (yang) and negative (yin) energies in the body–important aspects of Chinese medicine. “We believed that blending the Chinese understanding of diseases into the western medicines would yield an approach more successful in unlocking the full potential of Chinese herbs,” Dr Sze continued.

Dr Albert B. Wong, founding president of the Modernised Chinese Medicine Association and a member of Hong Kong SAR Government’s Panel on Promoting Testing and Certification Services in Chinese Medicine Trade, agrees: “Health benefits of herbal remedies are widely known but not yet proven. People don’t want to waste money or gamble on unproven treatments and then miss the chance of beating the diseases. New innovations are needed to bring transparency and credibility into herbal medicine.”

He continues,”Herbs can be grown, hand-picked or collected. The quality of active ingredients and medicinal effects also varies with region, altitude, growing techniques and processing methods. QPAR provides a scientific way to quickly verify the authenticity and active ingredients by different sources, making herbal trade fairer and more transparent. Drug companies would better control the prices and quality of raw herbs and also enforce standardisation and consistence across products. From the consumers’ point of view, it is worth to spend the money on products that can give exactly what they want for their health benefits.”

Another step for alternative treatments, and now, combined with traditional medicine, it is looking increasingly promising in the future.


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