Thursday, June 06, 2013

[521] MTSU’s botanical research partnership in China moves forward

Joint research center dedicated at Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants

NANNING, China — Middle Tennessee State University’s partnership in China studying modern uses of ancient herbal remedies has yielded almost 40 results showing promise in the treatment of cancer, viral infections and other ailments.

The report came as an MTSU delegation concluded last weekend its visit to the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants, named in 2011 as the world’s largest medicinal herb garden by the Guinness Book of World Records. Located in Nanning in southern China, the garden features more than 7,400 medicinal plants.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Miao Jianhua, vice president of the Guangxi Academic Science Institute and garden director, celebrated the partnership’s progress with the christening of an MTSU-branded Joint Research Center at the garden’s new research laboratory and headquarters.

“I am committed to making sure we produce ground-breaking research that will help the people of China, help the people of America and, perhaps, the people of the world,” McPhee said in remarks before the dedication.

The Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, based at MTSU, and the Guangxi garden are partners in an exclusive collaborative agreement that seeks to accelerate the development of Western medicines from plant extracts.

The partnership, which began in 2011, plays to the strengths of both institutions. Garden researchers cultivate and prepare extracts. Then, MTSU scientists, led by professor Elliot Altman, screen the samples to determine their promise in the treatment of ailments.

McPhee, who said he was impressed with Miao’s leadership in the project, also suggested that garden researchers assist the university in growing some botanical samples at MTSU’s 500-acre agriculture complex at Guy James Farm.

“I think it has great potential, because our agricultural program is one of the best in the Southeast and we have a lot of good farmland,” McPhee said.

The application of traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of a variety of diseases is an ancient and respected tradition widely accepted in the Far East and gaining in awareness within Western cultures.

About 800 plants at the garden have been shown to have potential in treating a variety of diseases. Researchers at the garden have been preparing extracts from these plants. This has yielded a library of up to 400,000 compounds that MTSU researchers can explore.

Iris Gao, an MTSU assistant professor who accompanied Altman as a member of the China delegation, said the university would like to increase that library even further. She asked for Miao to provide more extracts for study.

Miao agreed, saying that MTSU “has what we need” to move the project forward. The director said he would personally oversee the next phases of the partnership.

After unveiling the Joint Research Center’s sign outside the Guangxi laboratory, the delegation also toured the garden, as well as a nearby pharmaceutical industry park that is poised to produce products developed by the partnership.

MTSU’s delegation was headed by McPhee and includes state Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, a 1976 graduate of the university.

Ketron joined McPhee in signaling support for the partnership, saying that he felt the collaboration “held great promise for advancements in science and medicine.” McPhee and Ketron also told their Chinese hosts about MTSU’s new $147 million Science Building, set to open in 2015, which will aid in the collaboration.

The university’s delegation has renewed or established relationships with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Hangzhou Normal University and the Research Institute of Industrial Design of Shunde. The delegation was set to visit institutions in Chongqing and Beijing before returning to Tennessee on Tuesday.

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