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Hue scientist’s passion for researching natural medicinal substances

TTH.VN - At the Award Ceremony of "L'ORÉAL - UNESCO For the Development of Women in Science" in 2023, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung made an impression with her “typical Hue” image upon giving a presentation on the research topic relevant to the potential and application of endemic medicinal plants in Thua Thien Hue Province in supporting disease treatment for public health care. She was among three female scientists honored by L'ORÉAL - UNESCO in 2023.

Hue University has a female scientist awarded the L’Oreal UNESCO prizeDoing scientific research requires passion and perseverance

 Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung and colleagues in the laboratory

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung is currently working at the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for Research and Application of Science and Technology, under the University of Sciences, Hue University. Sharing about her work, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung enchanted the listener with her dynamic narration, "I started researching and teaching chemistry at the University of Sciences, Hue University in 2002 and have been attached to the Department of Chemistry for more than 20 years. Initially, I loved quantum chemistry and computational chemistry because of the enjoyable things about molecular structures and chemical bonds. Later, I realized there was a need to combine them with applied chemistry for further research on natural medicinal substances to support disease treatment. I  prioritized the combination of quantum chemistry calculation, simulation, and experimentation in this research direction in order that pharmaceutical products could be created systematically from scientific publications through international articles to research and preparation of applied products.

“Mysteries" of medicinal plants discovered

Passionate about chemistry and directing her research toward natural medicinal substances, for years, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung has focused on investigating the bioactivity, antibacterial ability, and disease syndrome inhibition of active ingredients extracted from some endemic medicinal plants in Vietnam.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung always desires to gain a deep insight into the application of natural medicinal substances in life. Therefore, she is always concerned about finding natural compounds with antibacterial and antiviral potential, acting as natural antibiotics capable of replacing current drugs. This is becoming the focus of comprehensive research and specific medicine preparation to support the effective treatment of diseases.

Born and raised in Hue, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung has special affection for Hue, likes the working environment and life in the peaceful city, and always wishes to associate her research with this land.

Through the survey, Assoc. Prof. Nhung has seen many medicinal plants growing widely and suitable for the climate and soil of Thua Thien Hue. These plants are easy to grow and preserve, have large yields and a short growth/harvest time, and grow well on degraded/sandy soils. Antibacterial and antifungal effectiveness was proven through several published studies.

In particular, this source of raw materials can be harvested all year round, and after harvest, the plants can still grow normally. She and the research team chose to study topics relevant to endemic medicinal plants in Hue, such as black ginger plants (Distichochlamys spp), spider eggplants (Aspidistra loci), Phong Dien rock garlic plants (Aspidistra phongdiensis), Vietnamese dandelion plants…

The black ginger plants are distributed in Bach Ma Forest (Thua Thien Hue) and Phong Dien Forest. They were discovered in 1995, but only recently have they received attention for systematic and methodical research. Assoc. Prof. Nhung and her research team published some research projects with valuable results on black ginger in simulation and experimental research on antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and diabetes treatment activities.

The Phong Dien rock garlic plant was discovered in early 2023 in Thua Thien Hue. This is a precious medicinal herb with many medicinal properties, and its medicinal properties can be applied in the treatment and disease treatment support. Its bioactivity with some very valuable initial results has been investigated by Assoc. Prof. Nhung and the research team.

The research results reveal that the pharmacological properties, biological activities, and ability to inhibit bacteria and disease syndromes (Alzheimer's, diabetes,...) of natural compounds extracted from the above endemic medicinal plants in Hue constitutes a reliable scientific basis for in-depth research on natural medicinal substances and medicinal chemistry. Accordingly, these medicinal plants will be used to prepare medicines of natural origin in the prevention and treatment support of diseases, helping to improve community health.

With this research, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung carried off the "L'ORÉAL - UNESCO For the Development of Women in Science" award in 2023.

Commercialization of research results

Before the research topic received the L'ORÉAL - UNESCO Award, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung and her research team had the topics and projects whose research results have been applied in practice and successfully commercialized such as herbal tea products and pharmaceutical products to support respiratory disease…

In particular, Assoc. Prof Nhung and her research team have successfully cultivated medicinal mushrooms with high nutrient content. The researched mushroom varieties were published by the research team on the World Gene Bank (GenBank), especially the Cordyceps cicadae mushroom variety on the inhibition of disease syndrome, which has not yet been studied much in Vietnam. Some initial researches by the team demonstrated through simulation and experiments that the team's cultured medicinal mushroom products have the potential to support the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's, skin aging, diabetes...

In consistency with his scientific research path, Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Thi Ai Nhung said, "We will promote research and application of some endemic and precious medicinal plants in Vietnam from raw material areas to researching and proving the application activities in supporting disease treatment thanks to active ingredients extracted from medicinal plants. Also, the plan will be developed to prepare products for application, and testing, ... and proceed to commercialize products. Difficulties and challenges always lie ahead, but it is my belief that with interdisciplinary, sustainable cooperation and passion for scientific research, our team will surmount difficulties to create scientific products with practical applicability".

Story and photo: NGUYET NHI
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