Lab Canada

Research group to study cardiovascular benefits of traditional aboriginal medicine

Saskatoon, SK – June 28, 2004 – A newly formed research group at the University of Saskatchewan is working with two northern Saskatchewan Aboriginal communities to study traditional First Nations medicine that may reduce hypertension and improve heart health.

With start-up funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and the university, the cardiovascular research group has started to gather information about 26 locally grown plants used by First Nations to combat cardiovascular disease.

"This is a unique opportunity for the university community to engage the Aboriginal community in building upon one of their great strengths – the historic and cultural tradition of using indigenous plant-based products for healing," says Rui Wang, a University of Saskatchewan physiologist who heads the group.

Professor Wang, who is trained in traditional Chinese herbal medicine, says that a research-based analysis of herbal medicine and healing practices will identify plants that hold the greatest therapeutic promise, validating anecdotal claims that plant medicine benefits heart health.

In time, the group may use the Canadian Light Source synchrotron ( to identify active compounds of the most heart-healthy plants.

"The use of traditional herbal medicine is an important approach to preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, and can be significantly enhanced by rigorous scientific research and documentation," he says.

Working with Aboriginal elders from the Lac La Ronge Band and English River First Nation, the team will interview Aboriginal healers about the effectiveness of specific plants in herbal medicine. They will find out which parts of a plant are used, and how different medicines are prepared and administered.

Professor Wang, nine members of the cardiovascular research group and other collaborators have applied for a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant to further the research.

A total of 22 researchers from the university’s colleges of medicine, pharmacy and nutrition, nursing, and veterinary medicine make up the cardiovascular group, along with more than 12 post-doctoral fellows and 15 graduate students.

The Aboriginal herbal medicine study is only one of a number of projects the group expects to undertake. The group will conduct both basic and clinical research related to the normal functions of the cardiovascular system, as well as diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart failure.

Recently, three trainees working in the group’s labs were awarded grants from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Xuming Jia will receive $63,000 over three years, while Yuan Huang and Xianfeng Sun will each receive $76,000 over two years for their research.

The cardiovascular research group is one of five new human health research groups established through a funding partnership between the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and Saskatchewan universities.