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Papua'€™s humble gendarussa plant may provide '€˜male pill'€™

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta/Surabaya/Jayapura | Sun, May 11 2014 | 11:03 am
Birth control: A small ethnic group in remote Papua has found another use for the gendarussa plant — preventing pregnancy by blocking sperm production. (Courtesy of Dinesh Valke)" border="0" height="333" width="499">Birth control: A small ethnic group in remote Papua has found another use for the gendarussa plant — preventing pregnancy by blocking sperm production. (Courtesy of Dinesh Valke)

In difficult times, nature provides — if you are looking in the right place.

The innocent-looking shrub you may find next door is perhaps the answer to some of the world’s problems.

Often planted in hedgerows across Indonesia, the gendarussa plant has long been used as a remedy for anxiety, flu, skin diseases and arthritis.

A small ethnic group in remote Papua, however, has found another use for the plant: preventing pregnancy.

Word spread slowly and it was not until the early 1980s that a researcher from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta caught on to the information and shared it with fellow researchers.

Later, a pharmacy researcher at Airlangga University (Unair) in Surabaya, East Java, Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo, 54, developed the research and brought the plant to his laboratory in 1985.

His early findings confirmed the local knowledge.

“The men in one ethnic group in the remote area of Sentani, Papua, boil the leaves with water and drink the water at least 30 minutes before sexual intercourse,” Bambang said.

Gendarussa — also known as handarusa in Sundanese, tetean or trus in Javanese, gandarisa in the Bima ethnic language, puli in the Ternate language, besi-besi to the Acehnese and bo gu in one Chinese dialect — grows wild in the forest, usually near waterways, up to 500 meters above sea level.

It can grow up to 2-meters high and its branches are dark purple, which turn to shiny dark brown as it ages.

Its leaves, stalk and roots have long been used as a quick remedy for various illnesses.

In the lab: Professor Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo says gendarussa can “disrupt” three enzymes in spermatozoa and thus affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization. (JP/Wahyoe)In the lab: Professor Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo says gendarussa can “disrupt” three enzymes in spermatozoa and thus affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization. (JP/Wahyoe)
Researchers from the pharmacy and medical schools in Airlangga and the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) extracted glycoside flavonoid, mainly contained in the leaves, the metabolites of which have potential for contraceptive purposes.

The chemical, according to Bambang, has the ability to “disrupt” three enzymes in spermatozoa, thus, affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization.

“The chemical will not affect the quality or the quantity of sperm produced because it only targets the enzymes,” he explained.

Moreover, he added, it had reversible effects.

The extract has been made into capsule form by pharmaceutical company PT Indo Farma in a pilot production program for a series of clinical tests, which have run since 2011.

The researchers are currently conducting the fourth phase of the clinical tests.

BKKBN family planning and reproductive deputy health Julianto Witjaksono said that it had earlier passed several tests before the production and it would still need to undergo more to have the extract registered as a herbal medicine with the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and the Health Ministry before it could reach consumers.

“There are protocols in the production of the medicine and they may take longer before it is ready to be distributed,” he said.

The first test was conducted in 2009 on 32 fertile, single male volunteers in Surabaya. The volunteers took the purified plant extract for 144 days.

“As a result, during and after the test period, their vital organs such as the liver and heart were functioning well,” Bambang said.

In the phase-two studies in 2010, the extract was given to 120 married couples (80 given gendarussa and 40 given a placebo) for 102 days with no pregnancies resulting.

The third-phase took place in 2012 on 350 couples (186 taking the capsule and 164 taking the placebo) for 30 days with a 99.96 percent success rate, or according to Bambang, similar to that of oral contraceptives used by women.

Under evaluation: A woman holds a bag of capsules containing gendarussa extract made as a part of a pilot production program for a series of clinical tests. (JP/Wahyoe)

Birth control: A small ethnic group in remote Papua has found another use for the gendarussa plant '€” preventing pregnancy by blocking sperm production. (Courtesy of Dinesh Valke)

In difficult times, nature provides '€” if you are looking in the right place.

The innocent-looking shrub you may find next door is perhaps the answer to some of the world'€™s problems.

Often planted in hedgerows across Indonesia, the gendarussa plant has long been used as a remedy for anxiety, flu, skin diseases and arthritis.

A small ethnic group in remote Papua, however, has found another use for the plant: preventing pregnancy.

Word spread slowly and it was not until the early 1980s that a researcher from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta caught on to the information and shared it with fellow researchers.

Later, a pharmacy researcher at Airlangga University (Unair) in Surabaya, East Java, Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo, 54, developed the research and brought the plant to his laboratory in 1985.

His early findings confirmed the local knowledge.

'€œThe men in one ethnic group in the remote area of Sentani, Papua, boil the leaves with water and drink the water at least 30 minutes before sexual intercourse,'€ Bambang said.

Gendarussa '€” also known as handarusa in Sundanese, tetean or trus in Javanese, gandarisa in the Bima ethnic language, puli in the Ternate language, besi-besi to the Acehnese and bo gu in one Chinese dialect '€” grows wild in the forest, usually near waterways, up to 500 meters above sea level.

It can grow up to 2-meters high and its branches are dark purple, which turn to shiny dark brown as it ages.

Its leaves, stalk and roots have long been used as a quick remedy for various illnesses.

In the lab: Professor Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo says gendarussa can '€œdisrupt'€ three enzymes in spermatozoa and thus affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization. (JP/Wahyoe)In the lab: Professor Bambang Prajogo Eko Wardojo says gendarussa can '€œdisrupt'€ three enzymes in spermatozoa and thus affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization. (JP/Wahyoe)
Researchers from the pharmacy and medical schools in Airlangga and the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) extracted glycoside flavonoid, mainly contained in the leaves, the metabolites of which have potential for contraceptive purposes.

The chemical, according to Bambang, has the ability to '€œdisrupt'€ three enzymes in spermatozoa, thus, affect sperm penetration during in vitro fertilization.

'€œThe chemical will not affect the quality or the quantity of sperm produced because it only targets the enzymes,'€ he explained.

Moreover, he added, it had reversible effects.

The extract has been made into capsule form by pharmaceutical company PT Indo Farma in a pilot production program for a series of clinical tests, which have run since 2011.

The researchers are currently conducting the fourth phase of the clinical tests.

BKKBN family planning and reproductive deputy health Julianto Witjaksono said that it had earlier passed several tests before the production and it would still need to undergo more to have the extract registered as a herbal medicine with the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and the Health Ministry before it could reach consumers.

'€œThere are protocols in the production of the medicine and they may take longer before it is ready to be distributed,'€ he said.

The first test was conducted in 2009 on 32 fertile, single male volunteers in Surabaya. The volunteers took the purified plant extract for 144 days.

'€œAs a result, during and after the test period, their vital organs such as the liver and heart were functioning well,'€ Bambang said.

In the phase-two studies in 2010, the extract was given to 120 married couples (80 given gendarussa and 40 given a placebo) for 102 days with no pregnancies resulting.

The third-phase took place in 2012 on 350 couples (186 taking the capsule and 164 taking the placebo) for 30 days with a 99.96 percent success rate, or according to Bambang, similar to that of oral contraceptives used by women.

Under evaluation: A woman holds a bag of capsules containing gendarussa extract made as a part of a pilot production program for a series of clinical tests. (JP/Wahyoe)Under evaluation: A woman holds a bag of capsules containing gendarussa extract made as a part of a pilot production program for a series of clinical tests. (JP/Wahyoe)
Additional studies are currently ongoing to check how long the capsule should be consumed before it has its expected result.

Compared to the earlier phases of the studies, the period needed is currently 15 days.

'€œWe are seeking to materialize the effect in exactly the same time as the traditional consumption, which is 30 minutes,'€ Bambang said.

There were no side effects from the consumption although nearly all volunteers reported a better appetite and increased libido.

'€œWe had to provide more condoms in this phase,'€ said Bambang.

The studies have been supported by the University of Geneva and Hoshi University in Tokyo, Japan, as they are seeking more benefits from the plant that would include possible anti-retroviral effects.

The research has cost Rp 7 billion (US$607,033), Rp 4 billion of which was funded by the BKKBN, a non-departmental agency that reports directly to the President.

Bambang and Airlangga University obtained the patented rights for the male contraceptive invention on June 12, 2008. They applied for the rights on January 23, 2001.

Bambang said that he had been offered $5 billion in research funding, along with complete facilities, from a research company in the US.

'€œI had to say no because they asked for the patent for the medicine. I want to present the discovery to my alma mater,'€ he said.

Gendarussa pill researchers will present the results of the clinical trials at the American Society of Andrology in Atlanta, in the US, later this month.

However, not all men and women alike regard the innovation as good news.

'€œI would make sure that my husband took the pills, but without him knowing,'€ said 32-year-old Mita (not her real name), a mother of three in Bekasi, West Java. '€œIf he knew he would have thoughts about having an affair.'€

Julianto said that the pills would not be available over the counter as they would only be distributed to married couples seeking birth control.

'€œWe have no intention of selling the pills to foreign markets. Other than different protocols for medicines, we want to protect what'€™s ours.'€

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