This week, two city institutes will begin work on deciphering how ayurvedic drugs such as Brahmi and Amlak help boost memory and strengthen the heart.
Starting Monday, the Haffkine Institute and the Institute for Research in Reproduction, both based in Parel, will begin animal trials to determine how the drugs, which contain herbs such as tulsi, arjun and haldi, function at a molecular level in animal tissues and organs.
The arjun herb is used in memory tonics; tulsi in cardiac tonics and haldi is an anti-oxidant.
The three-year project is approved by the Department of Science and Technology.
The scientists will use radionuclides to monitor the tissues and organs, which react to the herbs. Radionuclides, also referred to as radioisotopes, are chemical substances that exhibit radioactivity.
"In modern medicine, allopathic drugs are radiolabelled during animal trials to see how they get distributed in various organs," said Dr RD Lele, head of nuclear medicine at Lilavati Hospital, who is heading the project.
"But there is no such method to validate ayurvedic drugs and this is the first time that such an experiment is being conducted," he added. "We hope to get some results in a month's time."
The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre has successfully tagged radionuclide C-14 (radioactive carbon molecule) to urea. The C-14 urea is fed as manure to the herb plants for radiolabelling of various parts such as bark, leaves and, flowers.
The radiolabelled plant parts will be fed to rats. Next, non-invasive techniques such as Positive Emission Tomography (PET) scan or autoradiography will be performed on the animals to detect the distribution of the radioactive materials in the body to determine which cells and tissues do these radionuclide tagged herbs get localised in, whether it blocks any brain receptors and various other mechanisms.
"This study will help us know whether herbs promising to boost memory do stimulate the brain or just act as a placebo with humans believing that the drug is working. Knowing the bio-distribution of herbs in animals will help us understand how they act in various organs," said Dr Abhay Chowdhury, director, Haffkine Institute.