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Jamaica sitting on medicinal plant potential

Monday, January 13, 2014    

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DEAN of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies Professor Paul Reece said that Jamaica needs to tap into the huge medicinal potential that exists in its natural products.

"We have about 3,000 different plants in Jamaica and about 27 per cent, just over 800 of that, are not found anywhere else, but very few plants have been studied and even then, over 2,000 that are found in other countries, sometimes in Jamaica, produce different products because it is dependent on the soil and climate that it is grown in," he said.

"We have barely scratched the surface and there is so much more to be done," added Professor Reece, who was speaking to the Jamaica Observer following the opening ceremony for the Natural Products and Medicinal Symposium hosted by the Chemistry Department in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the university in Mona, Kingston, last week.

According to the professor, funding is a major challenge and the private sector needs to get involved and assist as Government is currently strapped for cash and the university, which provides most of the funding that is needed for the research, cannot sponsor any more natural product studies.

In highlighting the importance of chemistry in medicinal research, he said that without chemistry there would be no drugs.

"Chemistry is very essential to medicinal research and I am not putting down doctors or pharmacists as I could not imagine life without them, but doctors prescribe drugs and pharmacists dispense them, but it's the chemist who discovers the drugs," he said.

"Chemists are the ones who make all the pharmaceuticals that you take, so without chemistry you would not have any pharmaceutical industry and medicinal research," the professor said further.

In the meantime, the four-day biannual symposium, which is in its 25th year, featured renowned researchers and chemists from far-flung places such as Japan and Switzerland, but also included countires like the United States, Brazil and Trinidad. The discussions centred on new ways of making compounds which have various medicinal properties as well as biological activities of compounds isolated from plants and fungi.

Professor Reece, organising secretary of the event, said that the function was aimed at bringing new chemistry research to Jamaica while exposing the Jamaican students to the different types of research that are being undertaken and to expand their knowledge.

"We are all learning from each other, but one of the important thing is that we are bringing top-level researchers to Jamaica and the students are not only learning from the best minds in the world but relationships are also being formed, which result in collaboration or educational opportunities for students," he said.

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