My Wheaton Honors Research project investigates the angiogenic effect (stimulation of blood vessel growth) of Panax notoginseng on the Zebrafish wound-healing model. Panax Noto-ginseng or 三七 (sān qī), is a popular herb used in TCM that grows locally in Yunnan. The Chinese refer to it as “three-seven root” because the plant has three branches with seven leaves each. It is also said that the root should be harvested between three and seven years after planting it. While in China, I have been exploring the medicinal properties of this plant and have been learning about its significance in TCM.
Panax notoginseng is especially popular here in Kunming and it can be found in almost any pharmacy. According to the theory of TCM, the plant can be used to treat diseases of the blood and consuming it may be beneficial to many aspects of one’s health. It is most commonly prepared as a tea. At Salvador’s Coffee House, a popular western cafe in Kunming, I had the opportunity to try Panax notoginseng as a constituent in their expensive “Power Tea.” While the taste was far from inviting, the tea left me alert for most of the afternoon. Dr. Wen also told me that some restaurants will even prepare special dishes with the plant.
During a visit to the Yunnan Military Academy museum in Kunming, I learned more about the historical importance of Panax notoginseng in the region. Yunnan Baiyao (云南白药) is a famous hemostatic powdered medicine noted for its effectiveness in treating open wounds. The medicine, developed by Qu Huangzhang in 1902, contains a mixture of hand selected regional herbs, with Panax notoginseng being the major ingredient. In the massive Taierzhuang Battle of 1938 (Second Sino-Japanese War), Mr. Qu Huanzhang donated more than 30,000 bottles of Yunnan Baiyao to the army to treat wounded soldiers resulting in many lives being saved. Consequentially, the Chinese scored a major victory and Yunnan Baiyao gained the reputation as a miracle remedy, mirroring that of penicillin in the U.S. The medicine continues to be produced in Yunnan by the state-owned enterprise, Yunnan Baiyao Group and is sold around the world as a premier product of TCM.
Other companies have also recognized the marketing potential of Panax notoginseng. The Yunnan Hongyan Bioengineering Technology CO., LTD produces various medicinal extracts from the plant and conducts research about the biomedical applications of their products. One of their popular products is an aqueous saponin extract. Saponins are a special class of molecules isolated from Panax notoginseng, and are thought to be the major pharmaceutically active components in the plant. I met with Dr. Wang who is the manager of the company to discuss my own research. I am using one of their saponin extracts of Panax notoginseng in my honors research project. In recent years, there has been an increasing effort to explore the substances used in TCM in the context of rigorous science. Researchers are attempting to determine the safety and efficacy of these substances in conjunction with western medicine treatments.
The Biochemistry department at Yunnan Nationalities University in Kunming is also conducting such research. Thanks to Prof. Zhen, I had the opportunity to share my research with a class of approximately 60 students from the master’s program. It was there that I met a student who was conducting his own research on Panax notoginseng. His study compared heavy metal level, saponin concentration, and life expectancy in Panax notoginseng plants from different parts of the Wenshan region in Yunnan. So far he has collected and tested almost one hundred specimens and has found great geographic variation in the plants. His preliminary results suggest that regional environmental factors may influence saponin concentrations in Panax notoginseng plants, a factor that I had not considered until now. Through research, we are learning more about this fantastic plant and much has yet to be discovered about its biology and pharmachemical activity.
My meeting with Dr. Wang proved to be very valuable in providing me with a deeper understanding of how to isolate the active ingredients in Panax notoginseng. I am looking forward to returning to Wheaton in the fall and applying what I learned to my honors research project.