Cancer, AIDS and malaria could be a thing of the past. A WWF report says that plants that could help treat or cure these deadly diseases have been found in the forests of Borneo. But WWF says this medical treasure trove is threatened and calls for its long-term protection.
Scientists are currently testing samples collected in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. They hope to develop drugs that could contribute to the treatment of major, deadly human diseases.
One pharmaceutical company has identified a promising anti-cancer substance in a shrub found in Sarawak. A compound present in the plant Aglaia leptantha has been found to effectively kill 20 kinds of human cancer cells in laboratory tests, including those that cause brain and breast cancer, and melanoma.
Scientists also found a unique chemical in latex produced by the Bintangor tree. The compound, Calanolide A, appears to be effective against the replication of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), as well as the tuberculosis bacterium, which affects many AIDS patients. The discovery is particularly important as, to date, no single drug has been able to treat both HIV and TB. If clinically proven, Calanolide A could be a major development for the health of many millions of people worldwide.
Another find is a powerful and previously unknown anti-malarial agent in the bark of a local tree traditionally used by the Kenyah people of Kalimantan to treat malaria. Scientists say that the substance – a triterpenoid – apparently kills the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in laboratory tests.
According to WWF, 422 new plant species have been discovered in Borneo in the last 25 years, and many other species are waiting to be found and studied, some of them could hold potentially important medical properties. However, the global conservation organization warns that all these promising discoveries could be eventually lost if the disappearing rainforests of the heart of Borneo are not adequately protected.
Today, only half of Borneo's forest cover remains, down from 75 per cent in the mid 1980s. But the three Bornean governments – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia – have recently launched the Heart of Borneo initiative, which aims to preserve approximately 220,000km2 of equatorial forests and numerous wildlife species.
Read the full press release here.