Almost every culture has its distinct herbal traditions, each with its indigenous plants and unique practices. But one premise unites them all—herbs have remarkable properties that make them a source of potentially powerful medicines.
Thanks to early explorers like Marco Polo (1254–1324), materia medica has
been travelling between East and West for centuries. It is now important for us
to harness the traditional medicines from across the globe. In Britain, the rich
history of traditional medicine use was given credence in the early 1500s by
the Herbalists Charter of Henry the VIII ( 1491–1547). His contemporary in China, Li Shizhen ( 1518–1593) was a great naturalist who spearheaded a 40-year
research project that led to the publication of Bencao Gang Mu, a pharmacopoeia and also a treatise on botany, zoology, mineralogy, and metallurgy.
To make the case that traditional medicine has valuable insights for modern
society, an independent editorial team was gathered consisting of experts in
a range of topics related to traditional medicine research. This team compiled
a unique collection of state-of-the-art perspectives from global experts on
traditional medicine research, the Prst installment of which is presented in this
special feature. Further exciting articles will be published early in 2015.
We have chosen traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to illustrate the art and
science behind the ancient practice of holistic healing, and how the good
practices of quality control, pharmacology and toxicology testing, carefully designed clinical studies, and proper regulation are applicable to all traditional
This Prst issue introduces the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy (2014–
2023), highlighting the global scientiPc challenges and showing how a systems biology approach can be applied to diagnosis, leading to integrated
network-based medicine. Recent advances in mechanistic studies of acupuncture are also discussed. Some of the exciting areas in TCM research include
the therapeutic potential of herbal remedies against ineuenza, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases; the exploration of gut microbiota-targeted
dietary interventions against chronic ineammation; and the study of the
biological activities of complex polysaccharides present in medicinal plants.
Chemogenomics and network pharmacology have been applied to predict
molecular targets and decipher the mechanisms of action of pure compounds or phytocomplexes found in combinatorial herbal formulas. A better
understanding of the philosophy of synergetic interactions of Jun, Chen, Zuo,
and Shi classes of Chinese materia medica used in traditional formulations has
led to a simpliPed Jun-Shi compatibility drug discovery strategy model.
Evaluating the safety of herbal medicines is critical to their wider acceptance
as valid therapeutic agents. Integrated toxicological approaches have been
successfully applied in this area, for instance to identify antiPbrotic and proP-brotic substances in certain medicinal plants. As research into the broader
application of traditional medicine continues, newer 'omics technologies and
poly-pharmacokinetics will also play an increasing role in bridging the gap
between the personalized approach of Chinese medicine theory and modern
clinical research methodology.
We are particularly grateful to Zhu Chen, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee
of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China for inspiring us
to undertake this project, to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and her team,
Commissioner Guoqiang Wang of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese
Medicine, and AAAS CEO Alan Leshner for their vision and support for this special
feature. Thanks are also due to all authors, referees, advisors, and sponsors for charting
the journey ahead to translate ancient traditional medicines into the therapies of
Tai-Ping Fan, Ph.D.
(Guest project editor)
University of Cambridge,
Josephine Briggs, M.D.
National Center for
Liang Liu, M.D., Ph.D.
Macau University of
Science & Technology,
Macau SAR, China
Aiping Lu, M.D., Ph.D.
Hong Kong Baptist
Hong Kong SAR, China
Jan van der Greef, Ph.D.
University of Leiden and
Anlong Xu, Ph.D.
Beijing University of