Nutraceuticals are compounds that are manufactured under controlled conditions which are based on, or derived from, naturally occurring bioactive plants and flora (barks, stems, leaves, flowers, roots and fruits). Starting points for nutraceuticals are traditional medicines (e.g. Ayurvedic, Chinese, etc.) and folklore based remedies. An example of this is Turmeric, which has been used in the Indian subcontinent as a compound in medicines and a general antiseptic for centuries. Laboratory studies have shown that Turmeric has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Its active chemical element has been identified, now termed Curcumin, and a number of trials are in progress (the US National Institutes of Health has 18 trials underway) to quantify its efficacy, dosage, side effects, etc. Similarly there are many other naturally occurring compounds which are commonly used in Sri Lanka for general wellbeing. Some of these have been identified and are the basis of medicinal and cosmetic products commercialised by companies such as Siddhalepa, Link and Natures Secrets. Such products can be classified as nutraceuticals. They are an extension of health supplements rather than pharmaceuticals. However, the quality control and bulk production methods used for the latter can be similarly employed for the production of nutraceuticals. SLINTEC has initiated a new program on nutraceuticals aimed at synthesis of the active elements of three to four naturally occurring compounds. Initially the active elements will be identified and their bioactive active attributes studied and quantified under laboratory conditions. The new laboratory facilities to be established at the Nanotechnology Park will provide suitable facilities for this research. Collaboration with the Dept. of Microbiology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura for laboratory studies is also envisaged. Once these active elements of a particular compound are identified, the approach taken will be to chemically synthesise it in the laboratory. The route to synthesis of the naturally bioactive elements allows opportunities for IP creation. Through the synthetic route, it will be possible to avoid the large scale collection of naturally occurring plants and flora in order to make medicinal and cosmetic compounds of interest for local consumption as well as export. It will also allow for the efficacy of the bio active elements to be enhanced by avoiding the requirement to ingest/apply excessive amounts of the naturally occurring compounds in which they may be present only in trace amounts.

Active compounds present in natural products are often prone to deteriorate through oxidation, hydrolysis, microbial attack and other environmental degradations resulting adverse effects on the stability and activity of the herbal product. Microbiological purity is one of the important issues in herbal industry as in the presence of microbes can lead to loss properties such as activity, texture and colour. Furthermore, it could result risk of infection to the user. The synthetic route solves this issue as well. What SLINTEC aims to establish is a route to Sri Lankan nutraceuticals which is akin to the synthetic production of vitamins as health supplements. The IP created at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in synthesizing vitamin D in the 1930’s is the core of the largest university based endowment for research, The University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund, globally to this day.

To complete the total research process as envisioned a modern synthetic chemistry facility will be established in the new laboratories. Part of the investment funds sought will be used for this purpose. At present there are no synthetic chemistry facilities in Sri Lanka, which is a significant gap in the country’s scientific infrastructure (such facilities were established in countries in the region such as Thailand in the ‘80s). Support from NSF will also be sought give the national importance of having such laboratory facilities as well as the accompanying training of scientists in synthetic chemistry that it affords.

Three naturally occurring compounds will be the focus of the SLNTEC research programme. These are:

1) Turmeric

The research undertaken will be aimed at stabilising and controlling the solubility of curcumin, the bio active element in Turmeric. One of the approaches to be explored will derive from the experience gained in establishing the slow release of urea in the area of plant nutrients. This is to intercalate the curcumin molecule within a lamellar nano clay structure such as Montmorillonite. In this way the bio availability of a given quantity of curcumin can be extended, in much the same way as it is done in the case of other pharmaceutical drugs. The research challenge is to identify a suitable clay system which has the required cationic and ionic interactions with curcumin to allow it to both be intercalated into the inert layer space as well as stabilising it in terms of solubility. The other approach to stabilization, which will be explored, is co-crystallisation. Here the curcumin molecule is crystalised within a compound structure where an additional molecule that is compatible with it. In this way the curcumin is bound within a superstructure crystal thereby allowing control of its solubitlity and enhancing its chemical stability. The initial phase of this research will be carried out with naturally occurring curcumin as found in turmeric.

2) Manioc

There is a growing body of evidence which supports the view that manioc, a root yam also termed cassava, has anti-cancer properties. The bio active element in manioc, which is thought to give its anti-cancer properties, is vitamin B17. The approach taken will be to first understand in detail the chemical activity of vitamin B17 and in particular the unlocking mechanism of the cyanide group within it. From this co-crystallisation methods will be developed to allow only the enzymes found in cancer cell to allow release of the cyanide groups. In the final phase the synthesis of the vitamin B17 within a co-crystal, as opposed to B17 derived from manioc, as a single compound will be undertaken and its bioactivity characterized.

3) Karawila

Karawila is established as having a beneficial effects on controlling sugar levels in the body and therefore for alleviating metabolic disorders such as diabetes. The research programme at SLINTEC will be aimed at identifying the active elements in Karawila which allows better blood sugar regulation. The Market According to IBISWorld’s Global Cosmetics Manufacturing global market research report (Sep 2012), the cosmetic market is worth $233 billion in revenue and had an annual growth rate of 3.2 % from 2007 to 2012. Cosmetic production and retail sales were concentrated within the traditional three region boundaries of North America, Europe and Japan. The Sri Lankan cosmetic market was worth Rs. 5 billion last year. Curcumin, for example, is suited to being the base element for a variety of anti-bacterial cosmetic products e.g. anti-acne face cream.In addition to cosmetic industry, global herbal supplement and remedies market is expected to reach $93 billion by 2015.