Science Validating Traditional Chinese Medicine

File:Sambucus nigra0.jpgBefore It’s News – by Alton Parish

Researchers at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University are making efforts to forge ahead with the scientific studies of traditional Chinese medicine and put the result to good use. They have recently published the new book Authentication of Valuable Chinese Materia Medica

Researchers at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) are making efforts to forge ahead with the scientific studies of traditional Chinese medicine and put the result to good use. They have recently published the new book Authentication of Valuable Chinese Materia Medica and at the same time exploring the mechanism for Chinese medicine compound prescriptions in preventing elderly or chronic diseases. PolyU will also host an international conference on related topics next month.  

With the generous support of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and the former Hong Kong Jockey Club Institute of Chinese Medicine, in 2008, PolyU’s Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology kicked off a research project on the “Authentication of Valuable Chinese Materia Medica” through the State Key Laboratory Incubation Base in its Shenzhen-based research institute which specializes in pharmaceutical sciences and molecular pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine.

This project aims to establish a feasible system for identifying precious Chinese medicine for the industry, the general public and teaching purpose. Researchers have identified a list of thirty commonly used precious Chinese medicine (see attached) which are widely used but easily confused. They have collated the findings in a systemic manner for publication in this new book.

During this study, the research team of PolyU collected thirty samples of the Chinese medicine concerned (comprising samples of different origins, product standards and fakes) from many Chinese medicine distribution outlets. The samples were then made into specimens and analyzed with advanced technology. The research team has collected to date over a thousand samples of precious Chinese medicine and made more than sixty display specimens.

In addition to this new publication, PolyU researchers have published in several journals to strengthen research on the modernization of Chinese medicine. The researchers found out that real cordyceps (冬蟲夏草) can be identified when accurate details of the cross sections of its stroma (子座) are available; quality of saffron (西紅花) can be ascertained by Liquid Chromatography (高效液相色譜法); fakes of donkey-hide glue or Asini Corii Colla or Ejiao (阿膠) can be picked out with near infrared spectroscopy together with chemometrics clustering techniques. These scientific analyses not only fill in the niche of insufficient research on precious Chinese medicine but also provide scientific data for further research in the future.

In the field of Chinese medicine and compound prescription research, PolyU experts focus at present on the mechanism for compound prescription in preventing elderly or chronic diseases as well as the relation between components and efficacies of Chinese medicine which will be analyzed with modern approaches to provide scientific evidence for clinical application.

A research team led by Dr Wong Man-sau has set up the research platform of Chinese medicine in preventing osteoporosis for menopausal women. The platform has evaluated the medical properties of traditional Chinese medicine including single prescription such as Epimedium koreanum (淫羊藿), Ligustrum lucidum (女貞子), Sambucus williamsii (接骨木), Drynaria Fortunei (骨碎補), Erythrinae Variegata (刺桐) and compound prescriptions such as the ErXian Formula (二仙湯) and confirmed their efficacy. Some of the projects attracted the interest of international food corporation and pharmaceutical enterprise from the Chinese mainland to set up further contract research for further their product development.

Epimedium koreanum also known as barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed, rowdy lamb herb, randy beef grass or yin yang huo

File:Elfenblume (Epimedium x versicolor).jpgRegarding the study of Chinese medicine in preventing chronic diseases, the research team led by Dr Chan Shun-wan has dedicated much effort in analyzing edible Chinese medicine or Chinese medicine-based health care products.

Ligustrum lucidum (Chinese privet, glossy privet or broad-leaf privet) is a species of flowering plant, a privet (Ligustrum genus) in the olive family Oleaceae, native to the southern half of China. The Latin lucidum means bright or shiny, and refers to the glossy leaves.


Sambucus (elder or elderberry) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae. It was formerly placed in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, but was reclassified due to genetic evidence. It contains between 5 and 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and herbaceous perennial plants.

File:Sambucus nigra0.jpg

Drynaria roosii, commonly known as Gu-Sui-Bu, is a species of basket fern of the family Polypodiaceae. The plant is native to Eastern Asia, including eastern China.It is used in traditional Chinese medicine. This species is also more frequently cited by Asian studies by its synonym, Drynaria fortune


Evaluations of Chinese medicine including Chinese Hawthorn (山楂), Lingzhi (靈芝), Maitake (舞茸), Pueraria lobata (葛根), Salvia miltiorrhiza (丹參), Curcuma longa (薑黃) and their efficacies on cardiovascular diseases or chronic diseases have been done. Another recent finding of the team, which was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is the effectiveness of Guilinggao, a traditional health care food in South China area, in reducing blood lipid level and preventing atherosclerosis.

Salvia miltiorrhiza (simplified Chinese: 丹参; traditional Chinese: 丹參; pinyin: dānshēn), also known as red sage, Chinese sage, tan shen, or danshen, is a perennial plant in the genus Salvia, highly valued for its roots in traditional Chinese medicine. Native to China and Japan, it grows at 90 to 1,200 m (300 to 3,900 ft) elevation, preferring grassy places in forests, hillsides, and along stream banks. The specific epithet miltiorrhiza means “red ochre root”.

In addition, PolyU’s Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology will be hosting an international conference from 4 to 5 November to explore and enhance the understanding of botanicals and natural products with the integration of scientific platforms. Local and overseas experts will share their insights on the latest progress on quality control, product standardization and scientification.

The research institute for Chinese medicine was founded by PolyU in Nanshan District, Shenzhen, in 2001. In 2005, the State Key Laboratory of Chinese Medicine and Molecular Pharmacology (Incubation), Shenzhen was established with the approval of the Central Government’s Ministry of Science and Technology and the Shenzhen Municipal Government. Lately the institute has been investigating the correlation of components and efficacies of Chinese medicine, the impacts of Chinese medicine on human body’s metabolites, as well as its mechanisms with interdisciplinary research.

Contacts and sources:

Ms Joyce Ho
Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

One thought on “Science Validating Traditional Chinese Medicine

  1. Naturally (yes), these are exactly the kind of homeopathic remedies that Codex Alimentarius is designed to eliminate.

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