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American Student Searches for a Cure for Tuberculosis in Laotian Herbal Plants


Many developing countries around the globe that don't have easy access to western or bio-medicine depend heavily on their traditional ways of healing. Laos, a small landlocked Southeast Asian country abound in rivers, jungles and mountains, is one of them. Due to its tropical climate, Laos has a large variety of herbal plants to offer to its people for use in making traditional medicine.


Traditional medicine has been practiced and embedded in Lao culture since its existence as a country. Working in collaboration with the International Biodiversity Group and the Traditional Medicine Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in a project to search for local plants to fight diseases, Bethany Elkington, a Ph. D. student in the College of Pharmacy at UIC will be joining a research team in Laos to study herbal medicine for tuberculosis.

As Bethany mentioned in an interview with VOA, Asia is facing big troubles in fighting tuberculosis. She says Laos has the smallest number of tuberculosis cases among Southeast Asian countries­, attributing it to the size of the population. The research group at the UIC is currently working in Laos to find plants that has substance to cure tuberculosis. On the last trip, the group found more than 60 plants, and about 6-7 of them have a compound that warrants further studies and development. The Lao National Research Center in Vientiane has limited laboratories that can only complete the process to certain extent. Therefore, the plants found in Laos will have to be extracted or dried, and then brought to the United States for further research.

Bethany says, "Since the majority of local people live far away in remote regions and do not have access to biomedicine (modern or western medicine), Lao people depend heavily on the traditional medicine with local healers. But because those healers have been practicing this method over hundreds of years since their ancestors' time, they are familiar and very effective in what amount and how to use the herbal medicines."

Bethany tells VOA she will be working in Laos for ten months to find the cure for tuberculosis. "I am very excited to be working in Laos for some period. I am very fortunate to work in this project. I'll be learning more about the language, the culture and traditions and be closer to the people. I'll be working closely with local healers throughout the region," Bethany concludes.

Listen to audio files for more details.

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