Research in European herbal medicines

The field of medicinal plants is a STEM area with very low quantity of scientific websites. For this reason it is an excellent opportunity for students to learn both the scientific method and evidence based medicines. I have been studying herbal medicines both as a STEM teacher and as a phytotherapy professor at University of Barcelona and in United Arab Emirates.

Students from Erasmus project will study European herbal medicines using European Medicine Agency and European Pharmacopoeia databases, meta-analysis and scientific reviews to learn well established uses and traditionally uses of herbal medicines. Active principles and protein receptors will be studied using in silico pharmaceutical tools.

The topic of medicinal plants is a very interesting topic to introduce the scientific method for the student by asking student to write a scientific article or a scientific poster because it contains very different STEM topics.

Near 200 herbal drugs from the European Medicine Agency (EMA) will be studied by students from Institut Pompeu Fabra High School and other students from schools participating in Erasmus+ project. The student will analyse the information found in the EMA website and scientific websites to find reviews, meta-analysis, clinical trials and other scientific studies (Google Scholar and Medline.) They will find information about the medicinal plant, the herbal drug (part of the plant used in therapy), the active principles (chemical responsible of pharmacological activity), therapeutic indications and adverse effects.

After finding the active principles names in the previous databases, they will locate their identification numbers in the ZINC15 database for every herbal drug. They will also find the pharmacological receptor in the protein data bank.

The website SwissDock allows to do molecular docking. It also allows you to find similarities in active principles, to predict target proteins as pharmacological receptors, to simulate ADME (administration, distribution, metabolism and excretion as drugs) and to calculate many chemical properties. They will be using different software: Avogadro, UCSF Chimera, Autodock Vina, Jmol, among others.

There are two types of herbal medicinal products registered as medicines in Europe, those registered as drugs with well established medical use and those authorised as based only on their traditional use. They will learn why very few medicinal products from plants have been registered as medicines with well established use. They will show in scientific posters or scientific articles their own results of their research using in silico pharmaceutical tools.

Here you have a previous example on senna leaves and another about ginseng roots.