Greenwich University leads the way in Diabetes cure

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Plants growing in soil across the other side of the world have been put under the microscope by scientists in Greenwich in an attempt to find a solution to a health issue much closer to home.

A team based at Greenwich University's School of Science, led by Dr Solomon Habtemariam, believes it has found potential sources of medicine to treat diabetes and obesity, following more than two years of research.

Dr Habtemariam has spent the last 25 years striving to discover medicines from natural sources and said the Cassia auriculata and Cassia alata plants, found in south-east Asia, could provide the key combination of active ingredients needed to treat diabetes.

Dr Habtemariam said: "[In their native environment] people are actually using these medicines in the plants for treating diabetes.

"We were interested to prove these medicines work and if we found activity from them, we wanted to identify active ingredients.

"We found that some of the ingredients in the crude natural exhibits do inhibit enzymes in the gut and are responsible for digesting carbohydrates."

And the team's initial findings could hold a particular worth for those living in the area dubbed the East London Diabetes Belt.

After the Games, Olympic host borough Newham was highlighted a as "hot spot" by researchers from Queen Mary, University of London, with the highest prevalence of diabetes in all London boroughs.

One in six residents have been classed as at risk of developing the Type 2 form of the illness - linked to lifestyle - within the next decade, with the rocketing number of sufferers linked to an increase in obesity.

The link between obesity and diabetes is something that Dr Habtemariam believes can also be tackled with the active ingredients within the plants.

He said, as well as showing antioxidant benefits, some of the properties were also lipid or fat-lowering, so could help to tackle obesity, which he admitted was increasing in "alarming proportions".

"You could have one kind of medication that does the job of so many," he said.

"Our experiments are still on the bench side, the next is to move it onto the clinical side and then the manufacturing side, but our research so far has identified a lot of various lead components that could do so many different jobs.

"Overall, this suggests that the crude plant extract has lots of potential to be used clinically for treating diabetes and associated diseases."

Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said: "Type Two diabetes is a serious condition and we are pleased that researchers are trying to find new ways to improve on existing treatments.

"However, until this work is published in a scientific journal we can't say whether the substances in the plants being investigated have the potential to help in the fight against Type Two diabetes and the devastating complications it causes."