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<< Wednesday, April 09, 2014 >>


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From Plants to Pills: Take Bitter Roots for Malaria

Colloquium | April 9 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 2538 Channing (Inst. for the Study of Societal Issues), Wildavsky Conference Room


Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, Assistant Professor of History, University of California at Berkeley

Institute for the Study of Societal Issues


How do plants become pharmaceuticals? In this talk, I examine the history of efforts to patent a treatment for malaria made from the bitter roots of fever vine (Cryptolepis sanguinolenta). Malaria is a serious health risk in tropical West Africa. In Ghana, where these bitter roots became known as “Ghana Quinine,” a group of African scientists devoted their lives to creating a patented pharmaceutical from the plant. I consider their interactions with traditional healers from the 1940s, their struggles to establish a fledgling pharmaceutical industry, and the conflicts that complicated the success of the new drug in this postcolonial nation. This little known historical case provides a window into recent controversies surrounding biodiversity prospecting in tropical environments, the rights of indigenous peoples to shared benefits, and the quest for pharmaceutical patents. It is drawn from my recently published book, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa


isi@berkeley.edu, 510-642-0813