By Mary Hearty

Currently, there is increased utilization of medicinal plants for treatment of diseases and health conditions in both humans and livestock across the globe especially in Africa. This is due to the increased resistance to several synthetic drugs by microbes causing skin conditions; availability and accessibility; safety issues and costs.

In Tanzania particularly, the use of Commiphora swynnertonii also known as myrrh, has become widespread.

A research on the traditional plant conducted by Dr Gaymary George Bakari, Biomedical Researcher and Senior Lecturer of Animal Physiology at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, pointed out the effectiveness of myrrh on skin conditions including fungal infections and acute chronic wounds; and its risk if the dosage is not properly observed.

Speaking during the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa – Regional Initiative in Science and Education (AESA-RISE) scientific meeting organized both virtually and physically by the AAS in partnership with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Dr Bakari said:

“I tested this plant against bacteria, fungi, virus, and protozoa, and found out that it has potential antimicrobial effect including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antiprotozoal. It is used in both humans and animals.”

She added that it also has hepatoprotective effect because when used in low dosage, it tends to conserve the liver. But when used in high dosage, damage can occur.

She also observed that myrrh has an effect in reducing blood sugar and cholesterol.

With these promising results, Dr Bakari and her team decided to formulate, validate and package products from the plant’s resin for medical use.

She highlighted: “The specific objectives of this project were to formulate topical and oral products from the resin using different vehicles and preservatives; validate products made from the resin using animal and human volunteers; design suitable packaging for the most successful formulations; promote the use of the validated products as alternatives to synthetic ones; and carry out phytochemical studies for isolation of active compounds.”

In her research report published by the AAS in 2020, Dr Bakari stated that products formulated from the resin of this plant have been tested under different conditions and have shown effectiveness on treatment of all kinds of wounds, fungal infections and other skin conditions.

Dr. Bakari added that she was able to formulate about five to six products which include dermatological cream, wound gel, wound spray used specifically for fresh wounds, dermatological soap for skin  conditions as well as sanitizers and disinfectants.

She further noted that formulation of oral soft-gel capsule for controlling blood sugar and cholesterol has just commenced.

Regarding validation of the products, she described that she started with vitro studies (in the laboratory), where she used the products to test against bacteria using acetic acid, cell lines and experimental animals like rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits. Also, domestic animals with wounds such as horse, cattle, and dogs were used for validation.

In vitro studies, she used MTT, an assay used to evaluate if the products can propagate the number of cells generated from the wound. She also used the scratch assay, a demonstration where you create a wound on the slide; then you scratch and observe the movement of the cells. So if the product has those moving cells, it means it is able to cause wound contraction thus, facilitates wound healing, she explained.

According to Dr Bakari, these formulations are safe, affordable and effective, with no residual effects on the user. For instance, an experiment done on rats showed that there was faster and effective healing with no adverse effects on them.

The wound product from the plant’s resin used reduced their wound size from 10mm to zero in diameter by day 10 of treatment. Furthermore, the same products were observed to be effective in wounds which had persisted without healing for years, showing good response within 7 to 10 days of treatment in humans.

In the clinical trials, Dr Bakari recalled that she managed to get 30 volunteers with accidental wounds, and other types of skin condition like diabetic wounds, from Muhimbili Orthopaedic Institute to test her products.

She explained: “One of the volunteers had a wound from an accident which stayed for about five years, but with the use of the Commi products for two months, his wound tremendously improved.”

Again, she noted that she had an opportunity to test her products on two patients with skin cancer wounds and the results were promising. However, the cancer remained.

To isolate and elucidate compounds for the plant’s resin, Dr Bakari explained that she sent some samples to South Korea for isolation however, due to COVID-19 pandemic; they are yet to be done.

As for designing suitable packaging of the most successful formulations like the wound gel, Dr Bakari said: “The suitable vehicle was okay but there was a problem with the packaging as they were very expensive in Tanzania so I had to order most of the tubes from China.”

To promote the use the validated products as alternatives to synthetic ones, Dr Bakari participated in some of the exhibitions including Nanenane Exhibition, Tanzania Veterinary Annual Conference, Makisatu Innovation Week in Dodoma, and Sokoine Memorial Week at Sokoine University. Moreover, she promoted hand sanitizers and disinfectants in Morogoro urban for fight against COVID-19 infection.

Currently, they are in the process of registering her products; and she also affirmed that further studies will be conducted with regards to performing clinical trials on cancer patients.

Following this study, new protocols for formulation and validation of medicinal plants  products have been developed and documented.

The research personnel are also encouraged to involve communities to support the propagation and conservation of these plants to ensure sustainable availability of the resin raw material.

There is also need for collaboration with different sectors like pharmaceutical researchers, regulatory bodies in order to reduce cost and facilitate production of products from medicinal plant.