Samoan medicinal plant matalafi (Psychotria insularum), primarily used to treat “ma’i aitu” and various types of inflammation has been scientifically proven to have anti-inflammatory activity, in a recent study published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the USA (article link: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/45/e2100880118).
This research was led by SROS researcher Masuisuiolemalietoa Dr. Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni during her doctoral studies at the Victoria University of Wellington in their Chemical-Genetics laboratory. Collaborations were forged with the Natural Products Chemistry laboratory at VUW, as well as universities in the US, including Stanford University, New York University, and the University of California – San Diego that led to the identification of the mechanism of action of matalafi, some of the bioactive compounds within matalafi mediating its activity, and the correlation of the mechanism of action of matalafi to its application in traditional medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Dr. Molimau-Samasoni expressed that she was initially skeptical about the research, because of the superstitions surrounding the matalafi plant. However, she quickly came to realize that matalafi was the most potent out of her selected plants, and pursued its activity further.
When asked about the importance of having research like this conducted by Pacific people, both Drs. Molimau-Samasoni and Woolner expressed that it is hugely important for Pacific people to lead research into Pacific natural resources and Pacific traditional knowledge.
“This is one of the things we want to highlight from our work. This research was conducted with close engagement between scientists and traditional healers, and led by a local scientist. We also want to highlight that this research was led by two Pasifika women. And we want this to be an encouragement for more Pacific women to be involved in science, and lead research into our heritage, culture, and traditional knowledge.”
Dr. Molimau-Samasoni wishes to acknowledge former CEO of SROS, Mr. Tilafono David Hunter for encouraging her to undertake her Ph.D. studies in Samoan traditional medicine, and current CEO of SROS Dr. Seuseu Tauati for continuing on this research with the Organisation. Masuisui also acknowledges her families and friends for their support and prayers.