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Medicinal plants project impresses Business and Higher Education Round Table

by Rosanna Galvin

(L-R) Dr Bradley Simpson, Dr Susan Semple, Mr David Claudie (Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation) and Professor Richard Head. (L-R) Dr Bradley Simpson, Dr Susan Semple, Mr David Claudie (Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation)
and Professor Richard Head.

UniSA researchers are working in partnership with the Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation to develop new products derived from traditional medicinal plants to treat various diseases such as the inflammatory skin condition psoriasis.

The Kuuku l’yu Northern Kaanju Medicinal Plants project was recently acknowledged in the Business and Higher Education Round Table (B-HERT) Awards, receiving an honorable mention.

Working with the Kuuku I’yu traditional owner families from the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, UniSA researchers have successfully extracted compounds with healing properties from medicinal plants used in the community.

Led by UniSA’s Dr Susan Semple and Mr David Claudie from Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation, the project’s long term goal is to create sustainable business enterprise opportunities for traditional owners based on the production of plant-based medicinal products.

“The project aims to develop medicinal plants used by traditional owners in a way that respects both Western and Indigenous perspectives,” Dr Semple says.

“It was actually the traditional owners who first approached UniSA researchers to establish this collaboration. The project is embedded in the community leaders’ own framework for management, use and protection of natural resources on traditional homelands.

“One focus of our work has been an investigation of a plant species called Dodonaea polyandra or Uncha. The components of this species hadn’t been previously looked at from a Western scientific perspective.

“The traditional owners directed the team to Uncha because of its use as a prized medicine for mouth pain and inflammation by some Kuuku I’yu individuals.”

Testing in laboratories has since revealed that novel compounds from the Uncha plant have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds have provided the basis of joint patent applications with UniSA and Chuulangun Aboriginal Corporation and the extracts from the plant are now in the commercialisation stage. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with ITEK Ventures, the technology commercialisation company of UniSA.

The project team received its honourable mention in the ‘Best Community Engagement Collaboration’ category of the B-HERT Awards. The Awards celebrate the achievements of collaboration between business and higher education in the fields of research and development and education and training.