She had a clear goal in mind to pursue MBBS in Goa. However, there was a completely different plan set for Dr Maria Carina Cordeiro from Miramar. She missed a seat by just a mark and her father Cajetan convinced her that he would take her to such a path with her knowledge of science that MBBS would seem like nothing. He surely did. Overcoming different hurdles on her way, Dr Maria has achieved a breakthrough in research of medicinal plants that are anticancer and anti diabetic.
Photo by Siddesh Mayenkar
After completing Bachelors in Science in Biotechnology from Dhempe College, Goa with 80 percent, I was at a crossroad as there was no Masters in Science in general or medical biotech available in Goa University. I had to leave the state to study further,” says Dr Maria Carina sitting next to her father Cajetan.
“I first completed my masters in Bangalore. I was awarded PhD in Biotechnology by Karnataka University, Dharwad and I did my research on ‘Phytochemical and Pharmacological Investigation on Bridelia restusa Spreng’ - a medicinal plant, under the able guidance of Prof (Dr) B B Kaliwal, chairman of the department. I broke records of scoring the highest marks of 92 percent in not just my course work but also compared to all other departments in the university for the year. My father has been a constant support to guide me through my research,” said Dr Maria.
Maria is the only student to have done extensive research in Karnataka University on the crude extract of a plant which exhibited anticancer, anti diabetic, antioxidant and many more medicinal properties despite the absence of adequate infrastructure needed during her research.
“I had to go to University of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Science at Hebbal, Bangalore, for animal model testing and also detected p53 protein using antibodies that normally is very expensive in a sophisticated international laboratory in Bangalore. In such a situation, most PhD scholars tend to abandon the research midway; I was determined to go ahead,” she said.
In her study, she has analysed the phytoconstituents such as flavonoides and terpenoids found to be responsible for suppression of cancer. Such a research on medicinal plants is a first of its kind in the university and very useful in the discovery of bio-pharmaceutical drugs. She intends to set up Research and Development for the discovery of therapeutics in treatment of diseases. She has also published three papers in international journals.
Dr Maria’s next challenge is to isolate the respective compounds that could be made available as commercial drugs as in the market like vincristine and vinblastin obtained from the plant Vinca rosea.
“The steps involved in obtaining bio-pharmaceuticals from medicinal plant involve procuring the potential plant material followed by drying, powdering and extraction using different solvents. The extract obtained is dried and subjected to purification using chromatographic techniques to obtain different fractions along with isolated components. Individual fractions or isolated compounds are used for biological testing on animal or cell models to identify the one with the best potential. The characterisation of the compound via spectroscopy to identify the structure by comparing with existing database, if a novel compound is obtained it can be then patented.”
Dr Maria has worked on crude extract to detect the pharmacological aspects of the bark of Bridelia retusa but intends to continue with further research in isolation and characterising the compounds that could have potentials of future drugs.
Cajetan Corderio, a builder and developer by profession recently got interested in science. “As my daughters were studying, I started reading researches on the newspapers. Most have a short report that states the name of the research papers, and then I used to ask my daughters to search the papers online for me to read it in depth. Gradually, I started putting all the information to practical use and the interest of medicinal plants was due to Maria’s research,” confesses Cajetan.
“Goa is blessed with enormous resources in terms of biodiversity especially in the Western Ghats wherein trees like Mappia foetida or Nothapodytes nimmoniana locally known as Amrut or Narkhya and Gymnema sylvestre locally known as Madhunasini are in abundance. The chemotherapeutic usage of the shrub of Nothapodytes nimmoniana has been reported in producing camptothecin, a potent cytotoxic compound that inhibits DNA topo-isomerases, thus inhibiting DNA replication and killing cancer cells. A kilo of camptothecin is sold in international market for crores that requires one thousand kilo of the shrub,” claims Cajetan.
Cajetan has a keen interest in acquiring land for the purpose of growing medicinal trees and has plans to have a possible tie up with Forestry College, Sirsi in order to germinise the seedlings of the medicinal plants. About a year back without charging any money, he provided 10,000 seeds of Nothapodytes nimmoniana from the Western Ghats to the principle scientist, Dr Vasant Kumar of Indian Institute of Horticulture, Bangalore. He feels that Goan biotechnologists should utilise medicinal plants for the production of bio-pharmaceuticals which are cheaper than allopathic drugs.
“The Goa Government should encourage Goans scholars with masters and doctorates in biotechnology to take up R&D and promote bio-pharmaceutical medicine,” concludes Cajetan.