UH Hilo pharmacy researchers publish findings on anti-inflammatory properties of native plant

The authors find that the biological potential of ʻūhaloa (Waltheria indica) metabolites supports the traditional use of the plant for the treatment of inflammatory-related disorders.

At left, journal cover Journal of Natural Products, with date Feb 2023 and volume 86, no 2.
At left, cover of the Journal of Natural Products Feb. 2023 issue, which includes the paper “Anti-inflammatory Quinoline Alkaloids from the Roots of Waltheria indica,” co-authored by UH Hilo pharmacy researchers. At right is a photo of ʻūhaloa, Waltheria indica, on which the study is based. (Forest and Kim Starr/Wikimedia)

By Susan Enright.

Pharmacy College Logo with volcano and Words: The Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy, University of Hawaii at Hilo.Researchers at University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy are isolating compounds from a native Hawaiian plant to evaluate its medicinal properties. The group recently published their current findings on the root of ʻūhaloa (Waltheria indica), which has long been used in Hawaiian culture as a treatment for inflammatory conditions, including asthma and infections.

UH Hilo Professor of Pharmacy Practice Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit, Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Leng Chee Chang, postdoctoral associate Feifei Liu, and graduate student Sasha Nealand (née Kovacs) are co-authors of the paper entitled “Anti-inflammatory Quinoline Alkaloids from the Roots of Waltheria indica,” published in the latest issue of Journal of Natural Products.

The authors write that the biological potential of W. indica metabolites supports the traditional use of the plant for the treatment of inflammatory-related disorders.

Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit pictured
Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit
Leng Chee Chang pictured
Leng Chee Chang

“In our research, we were able to isolate and identify 16 new compounds from the Waltheria indica root, and then evaluate the anti-inflammatory potential of each compound,” Chang explains. “Several showed measurable activity and a few demonstrated significant levels of anti-inflammatory activity.”

“Our research results support the traditional use of this plant in the treatment of inflammatory-related disorders,” Chang notes, adding that the next stage of the team’s research involves determining if the most active compounds can be modified to make them even more effective.

The UH Hilo group is part of a team of researchers that also includes affiliates at the UH Hilo pharmacy college and scientists from UH Mānoa, the Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Long Island University in New York, and Jiangsu Normal University in China. Former dean of the UH Hilo pharmacy college John Pezzuto, along with Native Hawaiian practitioner Dane Kaohelani Silva who passed away late last year, also contributed.

Dane Kaohelani Silva pictured
Dane Kaohelani Silva

About collaborating with cultural practitioner Silva, Wongwiwatthananukit says the team believes the approach to pharmaceutical research should be driven by natural products that have their origin in traditional medicine.

“So we got involved in the Hilo community by seeking collaboration, both culturally and academically, with Kumu Dane Kaohelani Silva, a native Hawaiian practitioner with vast knowledge and experience in the use of la‘au lapa‘au or Hawaiian medicine,” Wongwiwatthananukit explains.

Chang says the group is grateful to have worked with Silva.

“[He] shared with us his knowledge of Hawaiian culture and practices as they pertained to indigenous medicinal plants and their uses,” she explains, adding that Silva calls his work lōkahi (unity) and was actively making preliminary strides to cultivate medicinal plants for a “lōkahi farmacy.”

Wongwiwatthananukit says the team hopes their work can help translate research from the laboratory to clinical practice to improve the health of people of Hawai‘i, the Pacific region, and the world.

Media release.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.