2018 Activity Report vol.29:University of Toyama

Activity Report of Open Application Course vol.29

Research Exchange with the University of Yangon for Improving the Discovery of Drug Design Seeds from Natural Resources in Myanmar

Report from the Institute of Natural Medicine, University of Toyama

Through the graces of the SAKURA Exchange Program in Science, our university was visited by three graduate students from the Department of Chemistry at the Univ. of Yangon in Myanmar, as well as the Dean of the Department of Chemistry, who accompanied the students as a supervising faculty member. The visit lasted from October 1 to 9, 2018. The program enabled visiting graduate students who conduct research on natural medicine in Myanmar to experience research on natural products synthesis in Japan. Through this experience, the program aims to improve the level of research on natural products synthesis in Myanmar and contribute to the growth of drug design research in Myanmar.

In the current academic year, we had already communicated with the Univ. of Yangon via email to confirm the progress of this project during the previous academic year, as well as to discuss experiments to be held in the current year. Accordingly, researchers at the Institute of Natural Medicine had already prepared the cells required for cytotoxicity testing. From the first day of the program (October 2), we started cytotoxicity testing for human cancer cells in partially-purified liquid that had been fractionated from extracts of medicinal plants in Myanmar.

Furthermore, in the current academic year, in order to create more interest in acquiring methodologies for measuring biological activity, we conducted cytotoxicity testing for personal samples of the visiting students from Myanmar. First, researchers from the Univ. of Toyama demonstrated the method for administering partially-purified liquid to human cancer cells. Afterwards, the visiting students tried implementing the method themselves. Despite encountering some difficulty with pipetting, the students carefully performed the cytotoxicity testing. In the afternoon of the same day, we finished preparing for measurement of antibacterial and antimycotic activity. We then started measurement of antibacterial and antimycotic activity.

Visiting students prepare for cytotoxicity testing

On the second day of the program, we confirmed the results of antibacterial and antimycotic activity that we started on the previous day. Also on the second day, the students visited the Museum of Materia Medica at the Univ. of Toyama. At the museum, they learned about the history and traditions of Toyama, a thriving region in drug design, as well as traditional drugs and natural medicine from throughout the world, including traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine. Visiting students in the current academic year have extremely deep knowledge of herbal medicine. They asked many questions regarding museum exhibitions, including herbal medicine and preparations including a mixture of traditional Chinese medicine. Throughout the day, the students learned a great deal regarding differences and similarities in the concepts of traditional drugs between Japan and Myanmar.

Students visit the Museum of Materia Medica, Univ. of Toyama

On the third day, we started by confirming the results of cytotoxicity testing. Extremely strong cytotoxicity was observed in the partially-purified liquid. The visiting students were very hopeful at the prospect of isolating compounds with the potential of use in anti-cancer agents from plants in Myanmar. Afterwards, the students started purifying the compounds and continued these operations until the ninth day, which was the second-to-last day of the program.

For the first three days, the students used an open column for purification. In the previous academic year, it was only possible to refine compounds using an open column. However, in the current academic year, the visiting students already possessed experience and extensive knowledge on this operation. Therefore, it was possible to purify using an open column more effectively than last year. As a result, from the fourth day, it was possible to advance to purification of compounds using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

Although the students were nervous because it was their first time using an HPLC, they were happy at being able to refine compounds to an even higher purity. Nevertheless, due to time constraints, we were not able to determine the chemical structure of compounds. This demonstrated the need for us to implement special measures aimed at conducting future experiments with even greater efficiency.

Partial purification of compounds
Using an HPLC to purify compounds

On the sixth day, the students visited the resource archives of Kokando, a pharmaceutical manufacturer. At the archives, the students were thrilled to learn that Kokando had once operated a branch in Myanmar (the branch no longer exists today). Unfortunately, a typhoon caused poor weather on this day, so we were forced to cancel the scheduled tour of Ikedaya Yasubei Shouten, a venerable manufacturer and retailer of oriental medicines. Even so, the archives were a wonderful opportunity to learn why Toyama is renowned for its drug design.

On the final day, we held a meeting to discuss the project in the upcoming academic year. Afterwards, a completion ceremony was held and Professor Morita presented each student with a completion certificate. On the program questionnaire, all of the students responded that their visit to Japan had been “extremely fulfilling.” I would like to take this occasion to express my heartfelt gratitude to SAKURA Science for creating the opportunity for such meaningful international exchange.

At the completion ceremony