View all news

Ancient Indian medicine meets modern science


Zoe Satherley
22 November 2007
Professor Ganga Rao Battu is on a mission. He is trying to discover the hidden secrets of Indian medicinal plants.

He has come to Southern Cross University’s Centre for Phytochemistry and Pharmacology to try and figure out how traditional Ayurvedic medicine works.

The traditional medicine of India, Ayurvedic medicine has been practised there for over 5,000 years. Meaning ‘the science of life’ it combines natural therapies with a highly personalised, holistic approach to the treatment of disease.

“In India, Ayurvedic medicine is very popular – the government even operates Ayurvedic hospitals and it has been used successfully for many centuries. But there is very little research that has been done anywhere in the world on exactly what the active ingredients are in the plants that are used,” he said.

Battu, as he prefers to be known, is a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences specialising in pharmacognosy and phytochemistry at Andhra University, in Andhra Pradesh, on the south-east coast of India.

He has been awarded an Endeavour Research Scholarship to undertake six months post-doctoral study at Southern Cross University. He arrived with a selection of plant extracts commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine back home to treat some kinds of cancer and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

These include food plants such as Asparagus racemosus, and common weeds such as croton bonplandianum as well as the roots of plants including hygrophilla spinosa.

“Coming here was a natural choice as your University has the best equipment and knowledge in the southern hemisphere for doing the specialised research and testing I needed to do,” Battu said. “It is really state of the art.”

To isolate and identify the active compounds in the plant extracts at a molecular level, Battu is using specialised machines and techniques including high performance liquid chromatography, scanning electron microscopy, mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance detection.

These compounds will then be tested for their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

“In India we do not have access to this kind of sophisticated equipment, so most of our testing has to be done on animals. We know that these plant compounds work because of the evidence from our animal trials, but we don’t know HOW they work and that is what I am hoping to discover while I am here,” Battu said.

“So you can say that my research strives to use modern scientific knowledge to validate ancient traditions.

“When I was growing up my grandmother always treated us using Ayurvedic medicine. Some of the plants were just common weeds, found everywhere, but prepared in the right way, they certainly worked. It will be quite exciting to discover the exact molecules responsible for their healing properties.”

Photo: Professor Ganga Rao Battu places test samples in the auto-sampler of the liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer at the Centre for Phytochemistry and Pharmacology.