Traditional knowledge combined with modern science has the potential to improve health care and promote revitalisation of culture in Australian Aboriginal communities. Through a case study, this presentation will describe the value of ethical collaborations for community organisations seeking to increase their scientific understanding of their traditional medicinal plants. It highlights the importance of community led projects and the benefits of using a cultural liaison, who can help expedite the collaborative process and oversee the contracts to ensure protection of the community’s intellectual property (IP). Such collaborations provide access to high quality scientific support for analysis and optimisation of plant preparations to communities wishing to promote and develop traditional medicinal practices.
This case study describes the development of strong working relationships between the Mbabaram Aboriginal community in north Queensland, the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) based at James Cook University, Cairns and the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) at Western Sydney University.
The TIEC is the first of its kind in Australia. An Indigenous driven initiative established to engage, support, and build capacity of Traditional Owner groups in tropical north Queensland. TIEC aims to record and utilise Indigenous ethno-biological and ethno-ecological knowledge for cultural use on-country, and progress the economic and environmental goals and aspirations of Traditional Owner groups. NICM has highly regarded laboratories and has been recognised by the Australia Research Council as ‘well above world standard’ for complementary medicines research (including traditional medicine). The institute conducts a wide range of laboratory, clinical and policy research to inform traditional and natural health care options.
The relationship was initiated via reciprocal visits between NICM researchers and representatives of the community and TIEC. A joint decision was made to test the specific bioactivity of a select number of de-identified plant extracts. The antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and/or antioxidant properties of selected plant extracts were undertaken. All laboratory testing results were conveyed to the community who retained this intellectual property.
Collaborations such as this can support communities wishing to promote and develop traditional medicinal practices for alternative health care options, enhance acknowledgement of cultural practices and build cultural pride.