Diabetes and cardiovascular disorders are among the top ten causes of illness in our country. The treatment of these diseases are costly and sometimes impossible at later stage. Moreover, a high percentage of Filipinos cannot afford these treatments.

One way to address this problem is by harnessing local resources in developing new drugs. This is in line with the objective of the Drug Discovery Development Program of the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development to mine new drugs from natural substances which can be developed up to pre-clinical stage for common infectious diseases and lifestyle disorders. In our laboratory, we are continually tapping locally grown plants for potential drug source to prevent, manage, and cure various ailments that plague our people.

Moringa oleifera, locally known as malunggay, has been dubbed a miracle plant because of its many nutritional, therapeutic, and prophylactic properties. Among its medicinal uses is as treatment for inflammation such as in rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation is one mechanism by which our body responds to tissue injury. It is complex pathway in the body. In fact, it has been linked to other diseases such as cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, Alzhiemer’s disease, and cardiovascular disorders. Thus, preventing inflammation could possibly alleviate symptoms or even cure these diseases.

In our laboratory, we test the potential of plant extracts – in this case, malunggay leaves – by giving it orally to mice whose paws have been injected with an inflammatory agent. The volume of the paws are measured, using an instrument called a plethysmometer, and recorded before and after injection of the inflammatory agent to determine whether administered extract is effective in preventing or reducing inflammation.

Our work on malunggay yielded an active compound that reduces inflammation in carrageenan-induced paw oedema test in mice, a method sed to evaluate the effectively of a sample against inflammation. This compound can be developed into an actual drug or serve as a biomarker in standardizing malunggay herbal products.

We encountered numerous challenges in the implementation of this project, foremost of which was the availability of mice for use in the experimentation. The other is tedious work of isolation. When separating active compounds from natural sources such as plants, it is a well-known fact that yield is very low. Thus, the process of separation has to be repeated several times in order to come up with enough compound for further testing.

The acquisition of an HPLC system, in the Moringa program has been very helpful in this respect. The NMR facility in the Institute of Chemistry has also been vital in determining the structure and identity of the active compound. With careful planning and adherence to set schedules, the administrative challenges that contribute to the delay of the project, such as procurement of supplies, reagents, and equipment has been minimized.

The active compound identified from this study still has to be tested for safety and to undergo formulation studies before it can be developed into an actual drug that can be used against inflammation. This usually takes about five years. In the meantime, it can be used to develop a standardized product based on malunggay such as herbal supplement or herbal drug. This may be realized in two to three years’ time. It is expected that results from this study will help improve the health condition of the Filipino people and ultimately, alleviate poverty.


Written by:
Evangeline C. Amor and Armenia C. Opog
University of the Philippines Diliman

Published by:Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)