Professor Nguyen Thị Hoài finds her passion in scientific research. She is an associate professor and Head of the Pharmacy Faculty at the Huế University of Medicine and Pharmacy in the central province of Thừa Thiên-Huế.
One of her most recent studies is about the discovery of antioxidant and anti-cancer properties of 30 kinds of medicinal herbs used by the Pa Ko and Vân Kiều ethnic minorities in central Vietnam.
For the study, Hoài has received an award granted to outstanding Vietnamese female scientists by L’Oreal-UNESCO.
“I have heard much about the ethnic herbalists with their folk remedies for cancer and other diseases. After researching, I found out that many patients had their conditions improved after using such supplemental remedies,” says Hoài. “Therefore, I was determined to study the compositions of those medicinal herbs to understand their properties to treat diseases.”
In 2011 and 2012, Hoài traveled frequently to the mountainous areas of the central province of Quảng Tri seeking out the precious herbs. It proved to be a laborious task as it was not easy to persuade the locals, whose source of living is dependent on the medicinal herbs, to reveal their secrets.
“Besides collecting information from soldiers, local women’s associations and youth unions, I spent days living and integrating with the residents to win their trust,” recalls Hoài.As soon as she got the samples, she spent years studying them in the lab. She concluded that 30 kinds of medicinal herbs can fight disease.
Hoài compiled data on 14 kinds of herbs that can prevent cancer and 16 others that have antioxidant properties. She has also conducted a study on filtering the capacities of antioxidants and destroying cancer cells in 30 other herbal species.
The highlight of her study is the identification of two herbs with the strongest potential, their chemical constituents and biological effects, which can form the basis of further study. They are Uvaria grandiflora Roxb ex Hornem that can eliminate cancer cells and Archidendron Clypearia that contains antioxidants.
Hoài’s other studies have also been highly received, including a study on the Hedyotis species in the family Rubiaceae, which has the capacity to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The herb has been used recently as a component of supplemental medicines in treating cancer in China.