lants and other living organisms have great potential to treat human disease. There are two distinct types of biomedical research that seek to develop this potential. One type of research explores the value of medicinal plants as traditionally used, which constitute the only available medicines for most people in poor countries. Studies of these plants have the potential to determine which plants are most potent, optimize dosages and dose forms, and identify safety risks. Another type of research uses bioassays to identify single molecules from plants that have interesting bioactivities in isolation and might be useful lead compounds for the development of pharmaceutical drugs. The William L. Brown Center collaborates in research of both types.

The WLBC, initially known as the Applied Research Department, was created to handle MBG’s participation in natural products discovery programs, which supply vouchered bulk plant materials to be screened via bioassays. Over the years, the WLBC has collected samples in several countries for a variety of government, academic, and corporate partners. Current projects include a collection program for the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, centered in the U.S. for several years and now expanding to Viet Nam, and the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group project in Madagascar. Headed by Dr. David Kingston at Virginia Tech, this long-running project brings academic and corporate labs into cooperation with Malagasy national research agencies and the National Cancer Institute. The Garden has long been a leader in developing ethical collecting agreements; local partners always have benefit-sharing agreements and receive up-front compensation from the funding source to support local capacity-building efforts.

In working with medical researchers to validate the traditional uses of medicinal plants, the WLBC’s most important role is to ensure that research materials are correctly identified and of adequate quality, and that their identity and source are documented, such as by preserving voucher specimens of raw bulk plant materials used. These practices are necessary in order for research results to be interpretable and replicable. For example, we are a part of The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies (TICIPS), a consortium of researchers primarily from Missouri and South African institutions, which is preparing to do a clinical trial on Lessertia frutescens (Sutherlandia, or Cancer Bush). We ensured that voucher samples of the commercially farmed research material were preserved. In addition, we collected samples of this and related species from throughout the Cape floristic region for chemical study. The rationale for doing this was that many traditional medicines are locally made, not from the expensive cultivar but from wild populations, which may vary in chemical content due to either genetic or environmental reasons. For medical scientists to know how broadly their research results apply to other products that may be used, they will need to know where their product fits into the range of variation found in those products.

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