Three UH Hilo pharmacy students are using nanotechnology to investigate antibacterial activity of poha berry extract.
By Susan Enright.
In Hawai‘i, Physalis peruviana, commonly called gooseberry but known locally as poha berry, is loved for its delicious fruit that can be eaten right off the plant or made into jam. But three student pharmacists at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy are looking at the berry through a very different lens: nanotechnology. Nanoparticles carrying antibacterial plant extracts are being studied as a tool to combat antimicrobial resistance, which in recent years has become a global threat to public health.
The three second-year students—Alyssa Kam, Yang Xu and Chae Min Lee—presented the results of their research, titled, “Green Synthesis of Silver Nanoparticles Using Physalis peruviana L. Fruit Extract and its Antibacterial Activity,” at the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Biomedical Sciences and Health Disparities Symposium held April 21, 2023, at the UH Cancer Center on O‘ahu. The students’ work was accepted for a poster presentation at the annual research symposium, which includes academic and student researchers from around the state.
The students are working under the supervision of pharmacy professors Leng Chee Chang and Supakit Wongwiwatthananukit to synthesize silver nanoparticles using extract from Physalis peruviana and evaluate its antibacterial activity.
Wongwiwatthananukit explains that the research focuses on safely, efficiently, and economically translating new therapeutic agents from natural products.
“Application of nanotechnology in pharmacy [or] nanopharmacy enhances the bench-to-bedside approach to patient care,” he says. “Specifically, green synthesis of metal nanoparticles using plant extracts ensures clean, non-toxic, and eco-friendly production.”
While poha berries are popular in Hawai‘i eaten fresh or used for making jam, they have been used in traditional medicine in different parts of the world since pre-Columbian times, particularly to treat cancer. Physalis peruviana is a species of plant in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) native to Chile and Peru. Widely introduced in the 20th century, P. peruviana is now cultivated or grows wild across the world in temperate and tropical regions.
Kam says due to the overprescribing of antibiotics leading to antimicrobial resistance—a global threat to public health–“it is important to identify alternative compounds with antimicrobial activity, especially plant-based compounds.”
Nanotechnology, nanoparticles, and nanomedicine
Undetectable by the human eye, a nanoparticle is a particle of matter between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter. Silver is widely used for nanoparticles as an innovative method of drug delivery.
Chang says the research results show the synthesized silver nanoparticles using the Physalis peruviana extract demonstrated good antibacterial activity against Gram-negative E. coli and one of the Gram-positive Methicillin-sensitive S. aureus bacteria strains that were tested, both which exist here in Hawai‘i.
“The next step is to determine the optimal and functional nanoparticle sizes that also have good stability properties,” says Chang, adding that nanoparticles research is a growing segment within the field of nanomedicine, and is very relevant to pharmacy curricula.
“There are more than 50 nanomedicines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” says Chang. “Offering a doctor of pharmacy curriculum based on emerging pharmaceutical and clinical science applications is significant. It is important to give our students this opportunity to learn about nanoparticles and nanomedicine through research electives.” This includes a special topics course in pharmaceutical sciences research with a laboratory component.
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.