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New biodiversity centers progresses S.R.O.S. research

A new biodiversity center has enabled the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) to progress work on the study of local flora and their potential to develop pharmaceutical products.

S.R.O.S. Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Seuseu Tauati, said thanks to the center their work has progressed and even led to the forming of partnerships with various organisations. The organisation currently has partnerships within and outside the country. 

“With the establishment of the biodiscovery centre, our research into local flora has progressed more smoothly than before with well established partnerships now maturing, under the formal umbrella of the Centre,” he said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) is one of their partners and organises access and benefit sharing that arises from genetic resources, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) organises marine samples for research with well known entities such as Maurice Wilkins Center in New Zealand. 

Over 200 plant samples have so far been collected by the SROS for further investigation, while those with bioactivity are identified and set aside to be further studied for their potential to become pharmaceutical agents. 

Dr Tauati said the plant samples would require detailed studies before they can be put through a plant extraction and production process, including clinical trials before they are ready for human use.

“For general information, the process of drug discovery is a long process that can take up to 10 years which includes various phases of clinical trials, and often starts from hundreds of (plant) samples that eventually end up in the production of about one to five pharmaceutical drugs,” he said.

There has been some promising developments in the identification of plants to tackle diabetes and bacteria, according to the S.R.O.S. Chief Executive Officer. These includes their work on cancer, which is awaiting the arrival of consumables and appropriate reagents from overseas suppliers for bioassays, which would enable them to start screening for anti-cancer activities of extracted compounds from local medicinal plants.

The organisation is also working with traditional healers, though this working partnership is restricted to family members of SROS staff.

“At the start of this work, this is largely limited to the family members of SROS staff, to align with the ABS regulations and current permits,” Dr. Tauati said.

However, the organisation plans to expand this partnership after they are issued with a new permit by the MNRE, which will enable them to collect samples from traditional healers outside SROS-connected families. 

“Our collection efforts are largely hindered by the plants that people have available. For example, there are medicinal plants that were used in the early days of traditional medicine, which are becoming increasingly rare and those plants are hard to find,” added Dr. Tautia. 

“Consequently, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to sample these plants and evaluate their potential as pharmaceutical leads. Additionally, different healers sometimes assign different names to the same plant. 

“In such instances, we make use of the MNRE botanist who we are working together with, as well as botanical organizations outside of Samoa. We continue to protect any research findings so that we can secure the information for the people of Samoa.”

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