An ethnobotanical survey of medicinal plants of Laos toward the discovery of bioactive compounds as potential candidates for pharmaceutical development
Tan, Ghee T.
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Context: An ethnobotany-based approach in the selection of raw plant materials to study was implemented. Objective: To acquire raw plant materials using ethnobotanical field interviews as starting point to discover new bioactive compounds from medicinal plants of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Methods: Using semi-structured field interviews with healers in the Lao PDR, plant samples were collected, extracted, and bio-assayed to detect bioactivity against cancer, HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria. Plant species demonstrating activity were recollected and the extracts subjected to a bioassay-guided isolation protocol to isolate and identify the active compounds. Results: Field interviews with 118 healers in 15 of 17 provinces of Lao PDR yielded 753 collections [573 species] with 955 plant samples. Of these 955, 50 extracts demonstrated activity in the anticancer, 10 in the anti-HIV, 30 in the anti-TB, and 52 in the anti-malarial assay. Recollection of actives followed by bioassay-guided isolation processes yielded a series of new and known in vitro-active anticancer and antimalarial compounds from 5 species. Discussion: Laos has a rich biodiversity, harboring an estimated 8,000-11,000 species of plants. In a country highly dependent on traditional medicine for its primary health care, this rich plant diversity serves as a major source of their medication. Conclusion: Ethnobotanical survey has demonstrated the richness of plant-based traditional medicine of Lao PDR, taxonomically and therapeutically. Biological assays of extracts of half of the 955 samples followed by in-depth studies of a number of actives have yielded a series of new bioactive compounds against the diseases of cancer and malaria.