Category: Archive

Holly — not just decoration anymore

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Scientists in Galway are collecting holly as part of research to find pharmaceutical chemicals they hope will treat a variety of illnesses, including heart problems and hypertension.

A team led by Dr. Myles Keogh, a lecturer in organic chemistry at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, has so far extracted seven potentially lifesaving medicinal compounds in European holly bushes.

"We are still isolating compounds, but we haven’t done any tests on them yet. When we have enough compounds to make it worthwhile, we will set up medical-type testing," Keogh said.

Holly has been used for centuries as a folk medicine for treating heart complaints, dizziness and hypertension.

Keogh and two research students from Ireland and Norway are using holly samples collected in the west and in Northern Ireland.

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The compounds they have isolated are called saponins and triterpenes and they have found them in various parts of the bushes, including the roots and the bark.

Work had been done on holly bushes in the past, but it was only recently that new techniques had been developed to allow scientists to separate the complex chemical mixtures and examine them.

"We are still looking at the chemistry, but the big problem is getting sufficient funding for facilities and paying research students," Keogh said.

With the booming economy, students are taking jobs rather than working for about £85 a week, plus their fees, to do research work."

He said extensive research was also being undertaken in China and Japan where the pharmaceutical uses of their variety of holly is very highly regarded in the Far East for cholesterol lowering, anti-allergy and anti-viral properties.

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