Tropical plants could help combat disease

·1-min read

Active compounds within tropical fauna and flora could be the catalyst to unlocking a trove of new medicines combating infectious diseases, researchers say.

A two-year review of more than 400 international studies, undertaken by the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University, unearthed natural reserves that could help tackle existing and emerging infectious tropical diseases.

Everything from plants, marine sponges, coral, snails, and spiders unique to a tropical environment were screened for active compounds in treating up to 41 diseases.

But while there is a vast traditional knowledge of flora and fauna used across the world, very few of them have a been systematically screened, senior researcher and microbiologist Dr Andreas Kupz said.

"It's largely because until recently, the technology wasn't there at a large scale," he told AAP.

Dr Kupz said new drugs found from tropical sources could potentially treat up to 41 diseases including malaria, chikungunya, dengue, Ebola and yellow fever, responsible for major outbreaks worldwide.

The review's purpose is to stimulate interest within the pharmaceutical industry.

"The focus of pharmaceutical research in this area has been on flowering plants, whereas mangroves, mosses, ferns, hornworts, cycads, liverworts, and lycopods remain barely studied for drug development to date, and represent an untapped source of new compounds," Dr Kupz said.

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