Eugenia Jambolana: Madagascar

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For more than 30 years, the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) has been researching the traditional medicines and food plants of Madagascar that, despite being nutritionally and medically valuable, often are overlooked and underused by local people. This case study is about one of IMRA's most interesting and successful projects. Eugenia jambolana Lamark is a species of big tree that grows on the central high plateau and east coast of Madagascar. It is a member of the Myrtaceae family to which myrtles belong. Eugenia jambolana produces small purple plums, called java plums (or rotra in Malagasy), that have a very sweet flavor, turning slightly astringent on the edges of the pulp as the fruit becomes mature. Java plums are rich in sugar, mineral salts, vitamins C and PP (which fortifies the beneficial effects of vitamin C), anthocyans, flavenoids and other useful ingredients. Although Malagasy folk healers have successfully used Eugenia jambolana to relieve the symptoms of diabetes, its full potential has never been exploited. In addition, the fruit could be made into make jams, jellies and health drinks, but a general lack of knowledge and interest exists in collecting, using and preserving java plums. Until IMRA launched its valorization of Eugenia jambolana project in 1970, much of this valuable resource had been ignored and left to go to waste. The project's main aims were, first, to identify ways of using the plant and its fruit and, then, to introduce these techniques and products to the public. Although ways of preserving the fruit to produce a range of tasty and healthy foods were one on the project's outputs, most of the work went towards developing the potential of Eugenia jambolana seeds in the treatment of diabetes and building on the experience and informal findings of centuries of local usage. The result was a commercially produced drug called Madeglucyl®, which has since been widely used by Malagasy diabetes patients. Along the way, scientists worked to find the best ways of collecting the original plant material, which meant training hundreds of rural families to identify the best seeds to pick. Ways of preserving the seeds were another aspect of scientific study. Researchers also concentrated on making this product acceptable and attractive to the country's population. In this effort they were aided by its appeal as a safe, natural drug with no toxic side-effects. Finally, issues of industrial production and commercialization within Madeglucyl® had to be addressed.

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... Clinical studies conducted by IMRA have shown Madeglucyl to be effective in helping to manage both Type I and Type II diabetes; in Type I diabetes, it reportedly reduces (but does not eliminate) daily insulin requirements [9]. Although Madeglucyl is presently sold mainly in Madagascar, it has recently been launched in the international market under the trade name Glucanol ForteTM [10]. ...
... While IMRA’s core purpose is to conduct research and develop and market affordable drugs, the organization also aims to promote Malagasy culture and preserve local biodiversity. According to its management, at the time of the case study IMRA was comprised of four main divisions [9]: ...
... Pre-clinical studies on rats established the efficacy and safety of the drug, and led to clinical trials in Madagascar, Germany, and the United States. In December 1997, Madeglucyl was approved as a licensed medicine in Madagascar; although a clinical trial has been conducted in the US, it is reportedly only available as a herbal supplement there [9]. ...
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Background Biopiracy – the use of a people’s long-established medical knowledge without acknowledgement or compensation – has been a disturbing historical reality and exacerbates the global rich-poor divide. Bioprospecting, however, describes the commercialization of indigenous medicines in a manner acceptable to the local populace. Challenges facing bioprospectors seeking to develop traditional medicines in a quality-controlled manner include a lack of skilled labor and high-tech infrastructure, adapting Northern R&D protocols to Southern settings, keeping products affordable for the local population, and managing the threat of biopiracy. The Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA) has employed bioprospecting to develop new health treatments for conditions such as diabetes and burns. Because of its integration of Western science and Malagasy cultural traditions, IMRA may provide a useful example for African and other organizations interested in bioprospecting. Discussion IMRA’s approach to drug development and commercialization was adapted from the outset to Malagasy culture and Southern economic landscapes. It achieved a balance between employing Northern R&D practices and following local cultural norms through four guiding principles. First, IMRA’s researchers understood and respected local practices, and sought to use rather than resist them. Second, IMRA engaged the local community early in the drug development process, and ensured that local people had a stake in its success. Third, IMRA actively collaborated with local and international partners to increase its credibility and research capacity. Fourth, IMRA obtained foreign research funds targeting the “diseases of civilization” to cross-fund the development of drugs for conditions that affect the Malagasy population. These principles are illustrated in the development of IMRA products like Madeglucyl, a treatment for diabetes management that was developed from a traditional remedy. Summary By combining local and international research interests, IMRA has been able to keep its treatments affordable for the Malagasy population. Our analysis of IMRA’s history, strategy, and challenges suggests that other developing world institutions seeking to use bioprospecting to address issues of local access to medicines would be well-advised to treat traditional medical knowledge with respect and humility, share its benefits with the local community, and pursue strategic partnerships.
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