A student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) is trying to find scientific support for the claim that a herbal remedy her Nigerian family have used for generations can treat cancer.
Hajara Alfa said family and friends from city of Kaduna where she was born and raised have for years sworn by the healing powers of the powdered bark of the Boswellia odorata - a tree which grows in the region.
Having completed a Masters' in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Hajara has now undertaken a PhD at DMU, attempting to prove the bark's medicinal potential and, if successful, create a new drug from the extract.
She said she was interested in exploring how this herbal remedy was working and how else its properties might be used. To do this, she has imported quantities of the bark from Nigeria by airmail.
She said: "Growing up, my parents always took this medication every day. They know people who work with the plant and so take it every morning.
"They grind the bark and mix the powder with water. This mix treats infections and mouth ulcers.
"But in combination with other herbal medication, they say it can treat cancer. There are many stories of it working."
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Hajara said her first step was to isolate the active compounds from the bark extract which helps treat infections and ulcers, and from there investigate whether they were effective on their own or only in concert with the other compounds in the bark.
She said: "Once I can establish this I can look at how it could be used to treat cancer. In Kaduna there are lots of herbal practitioners and each has their own mixture but from where I grew up there was one mixture which used the Boswellia bark and three other plant extracts. It can treat mouth cancer - there are many examples of the cancer clearing up."
Hajara's investigations will take place over the next three years during which she said she hopes to be able to contribute to the fight against cancer and drug resistance.
Dr Randolph Arroo, Head of Research at DMU's School of Pharmacy, said: "This is an excellent example of the kind of research we are carrying out at De Montfort University, using academic rigour to explore real world problems which could have impact across the globe. By choosing to study this treatment, Hajara has brought a native family treatment to a wider platform and the possibilities are very exciting."
Posted on Thursday 10th September 2015