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2009/10/29 12:06:32 PM

Pharmacological studies by a group of final-year UKZN Pharmacy students have revealed that marula leaves, often used by traditional health practitioners as a herbal remedy for the management or treatment of dysmenorhoea (menstrual cramps), may exacerbate the condition.

This discovery was unveiled by a team of seven students who gave a presentation titled: Pharmacological Effects of Sclerocarya birrea (Family: Anacardiaceae) Leaf Aqueous Extracts on Rat Isolated Uterine Horns, at the Pfizer-UKZN School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology’s Research Symposium at the Westville campus.

The presentation won the students first prize at the School-based Symposium, and the Laboratory-based category in this month’s Pfizer College of Health Sciences Young Health Scientists Research Symposium.

While extracts of marula leaves may be a popular traditional remedy for the treatment of diarrhea, malaria and a host of other human ailments, the students discovered that the marula leaf aqueous extract may exacerbate menstrual cramps and the associated pain because it induces uterine muscle contractions.

One of the students, Ms Prenesha Bechan, explained that her team obtained the marula leaf aqueous extract used in their study by air-drying one kilogram of fresh leaves of the plant at room temperature, milling the dried leaves into a fine powder, macerating the powdered leaves in distilled water, filtering it and then concentrating the filtrate in vacuo in a rotary evaporator. The processes of freeze-drying and solvent elimination produced a light brown, crude marula leaf aqueous extract.

Graded, escalated concentrations of the plant’s extract produced powerful contractions of isolated uterine horns taken from young adult, normal, non-pregnant, female Wistar rats, suggesting that marula leaf should be contra-indicated in dysmenorhoea because it would exacerbate the condition.

Another member of the team, Mr Thabiso Motaung, said this was a positive discovery and traditional healers should be advised not to use marula leaves in treating menstrual cramps, although the leaves could be used for the management of other human ailments.

Ms Bechan said months of hard work went into their investigation and they were elated to produce an award-winning research project.

The supervisor of the project, Professor John Ojewole, was congratulated on the achievement of the students.

The annual symposium highlights the research projects undertaken by final-year pharmacy and pharmacology students in preparation for the professional challenges they are about to encounter. Sixty-seven students participated in the 2009 School’s Research Symposium, showcasing ten research projects.

Co-ordinator of the Symposium, Dr Johannes Bodenstein, a lecturer in the Department of Pharmacology, said students’ presentations were impressive and raised the standards of research presented by final-year students.

“The School takes pride in the fact that the research projects of undergraduate students are making an invaluable contribution to training scientists and optimising healthcare in South Africa,” said Dr Bodenstein.

According to Dr Bodenstein emphasis was placed on investigating the medicinal properties of plants because much interest has been generated in developing this area. “Undertaking research and presentation at the Symposium develops students’ analytical techniques and problem-solving skills to help them prepare for potential research careers,” he added.

Taking second place at the Symposium was research on Identifying the Buccal Permeability Potential of Tenofovir using Porcine Buccal Mucosal Tissue; while the presentation titled: Scilla Nervosa Extract Exhibits Anti-inflammatory Activity in vivo, secured third place.

Congratulating the winning group for their hard work and dedication, the Head of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Dr Fatima Suleman, said final year students at the School continued to produce impressive research every year.

“I do want the final year students to know that they all are winners in the eyes of the School. They had a limited view of research before the start of this project but they have grown in leaps and bounds through the year. I’m hoping that a few of them have even developed a love for research and will come back into research and academia,” said Dr Suleman.

From left: Ms Nothando Sibiya, Mr Shiraz Rahimat Alli, Ms Nonhlanhla Nyamwela, Ms Prenesha Bechan, Professor John Ojewole, Project Supervisor, Ms Gomolemo Masisi, Ms Julia Hayangah and Mr Thabiso Motaung.

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