“The world currently faces a critical shortage of therapeutic drugs to treat disorders such as bacterial infections and chronic pain”, says scientist Dr Eric Buenz. “The New Zealand bush may have the answers.”
Eric has highlighted his search for new drugs in a video entered into Thinkable’s ‘180 Seconds of Science’ competition, sponsored by the Royal Society of New Zealand.
“New Zealand is very special place. Because of its geological history and geographic isolation it has relatively high level of biodiversity,” says Eric.
Most recently, Eric’s work has focused on compounds extracted from the ongaonga plant – the most exciting plant he has ever worked on. Ironically, this native stinging nettle may contain a new treatment for chronic pain associated with diseases such as diabetes, leprosy, Guillain-Barré syndrome and other autoimmune diseases.
Based at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Eric is working with the prestigious US-based Mayo Clinic (where he completed his PhD) to analyse the medicinal properties of the plant extracts and identify possible compounds for further development as medicines.
Traditional medicine important
In the video, Rōpata Taylor, General Manager, People and Culture at Wakatu Corporation notes the important role traditional medicine plays in understanding the healing properties of native plants.
“It is a knowledge, that has been passed down from generation to generation and developed over a long period of time, about what is safe and what benefits will come from certain plants at different times of the year. Those are all aspects of Rongoā – that indigenous understanding of medicine found in the plants and species that surround us.”
Landcare Research highlights several traditional medicinal uses of the ongaonga plant, including boiling its bark with kawakawa leaves to be used as a treatment for eczema and venereal disease.
Eric’s interest in ongaonga began when he accidentally brushed against the plant while out hunting in the bush. He described it to Stuff.co.nz:
“It was this crazy, burning sensation and I thought ‘what the hell?’.
What particularly got Buenz’s scientific senses tingling in the bush was not the sting from the poisonous spines of the ongaonga but the numbing aftermath. It’s not common to get such an effect on the nervous system from a substance that is only applied to the skin.
“I can’t think of anything else that’s like that,” Buenz said. “It’s rare to find something that’s so potentially powerful that hasn’t been examined.”
180 Seconds of Science
180 Seconds of Science is a competition for Early and Mid-Career Researchers offering them the chance to highlight their research in short videos. The public can vote for their favorite videos online, but be quick – voting closes the 22nd August 2016.
Check out the full list of entries from New Zealand below:
- Studs or duds? Bird sperm and conservation by Helen Taylor
- Keeping up with the Kat-Dashians by Heidy Kikkilus
- The Kauri Drought Experiment by Cate Macinnis-Ng
- Plant-based drug discovery in New Zealand by Eric Buenz
- Understanding Intelligence Rooted in Coincidence by Markus Luczak-Roesch
- How did Nemo really find his way home? by Craig Radford
- Finding value in meat cuts by Harvey Ho
- Volcanic Degassing on the Trail By Fire by Ian Schipper
- Walking helps manage type 2 diabetes by Andrew Reynolds
- Make Wood Not Love, Agnieszka Boron
- Bioengineering helping medicine with chronic sinusitis by Haribalan Kumar
- Next Generation Air Quality Monitoring by Kyle Alberti
- Smart wearable sensor for CVD risk assessment by Sam Parittotokkapron
Special thanks to Kimberley Collins for highlighting the competition and collecting the New Zealand-based links.
Feature image: Flickr / Joan Campderrós-i-Canas