The agreement allows the CSIR and Afriplex to develop a programme for the marketing and distribution of the herbal products for the various areas.
The CSIR¿s collaboration with traditional health practitioners on the use of medicinal plants has led to the identification of a number of traditional remedies.
South Africa has a long tradition of medicinal use of plants with an estimated 70% of South Africans consulting one of more than 200 000 traditional healers. Despite its rich biodiversity of more than 24 000 plants, there are few registered herbal medicines derived from the botanical specimens available in the country.
The CSIR and Afriplex will in the first instance focus on the plant Elephantorrhiza elephantina. This plant, which is commonly known as Elandsboontjie (Afrikaans) and Intolwane (Nguni languages) can be found in grassland areas over large parts of the country.
The extracts and compounds of Elephantorrhiza elephantina have been produced at CSIR Biosciences unit and with the assistance of Sasol ChemCity, several formulations such as treatment shampoos and scalp massage serums for topical application were developed.
The roots of this plant are commonly used by indigenous people for a wide range of ailments including diarrhoea and dysentery, stomach disorders, haemorrhoids and perforated ulcers and as emetics. It is also popular for the treatment of skin diseases and acne.
The CSIR has shown significant activity of the extracts and compounds against the enzyme steroid 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme - that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) - is seen as a causative factor in the progression of prostatic hyperplasia and also male pattern baldness. The extract also showed potent anti-oxidant activity that was greater than in green tea extract when tested.
Both organisations believe that the preferred route to the commercialisation of products derived from the plant should be for the cosmetic market as it helps with hair loss and has potent anti-oxidant properties. In order to achieve this, the CSIR has partnered with Afriplex to complete the remaining development programme for the marketing and distribution of the product in the cosmetic market sector.
This partnership demonstrates that South African organisations can boast registered herbal medicine derived from the botanical specimens available in this country, instead of these products being imported from overseas. By adding value locally and through the application of South African know-how and technology, a solid platform is created to present products typical of Africa in the international arena.
A strategy to ensure the reliable supply of plant material for commercialisation purposes is currently also being developed and will also involve the maximum participation of communities.
The funding of this research has been made possible by the CSIR and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).