‘Sarang semut’ — A potential cure for cancer and diabetes

Left: Mymecordia tea. Photo credit: Khong Heng Yen / Top right: Natural habitat of M. tuberosa. Photo credit: Saidi Rasemi / Bottom right: M. tuberosa. Photo credit: Saidi Rasemi

Forest Treasure from the Land of Hornbills

Series 4

Not many people know this, but Myrmecodia tuberosa, locally known as ‘sarang semut’ or ‘ants’ nest’, has the potential to cure cancer and diabetes.

Belonging to the Rubiaceae family, it is an epiphyte plant that is commensal to the host plant and can be found in Malaysia and the Philippines, south to the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, southern Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and New Guinea.

The ant plants are saturated by ant colonies, aggressive towards enemies of the host plant and are important for plant defence. Plant parts produce sweet secretions consumed by the ants, and the plant utilises direct nutrients derived from animals.

The plant is traditionally used in Malaysia and Indonesia as an alternative treatment for cancer and tumours, especially breast, liver, lung, ovarian, and brain cancers, and is also used to lower glucose levels in blood.

Professor Dr Khong Heng Yen and Saidi Rasemi have tested the M. tuberosa extract for anti-diabetic assay, which resulted in 63 to 73 per cent of α-glucosidase enzyme inhibition. Thus, this plant indicates moderate activity in lowering sugar levels in the blood of diabetic patients.

In addition to that, their findings also revealed that M. tuberosa is rich in phenolic contents and is a potential high antioxidant agent. Furthermore, it exhibited potent cytotoxicity against human breast cancer, cervical cancer, and human colorectal cancer cell lines.

Another study on the M. tuberosa species from Indonesia reported terpenoid, iridoid, phenolic, and flavonoid derivatives that showed antimicrobial activities against C. albicans (a fungus that lives on the body in small amounts), E. coli (a bacteria that can cause many diarrheal illnesses), and S. aureus (a bacteria that causes a wide variety of clinical diseases).

This plant is abundantly found in rural areas but rarely in urban areas. Therefore, the team hopes to pack this plant into a teabag to help people conveniently enjoy its benefits. Thus, there is great potential to market Myrmecodia tea as a health and pharmaceutical product for medicinal purposes.

Accelerating the global growth of the Malaysian herbal market takes synergy efforts of government, policymakers, industry players, researchers, and communities.

The rich biodiversity of Sarawak also has an excellent potential for herbal tourism and will contribute to the income generation of local communities and Malaysia’s economy. — DayakDaily

Forest Treasure from the Land of Hornbills by UiTM

Professor Dr Khong Heng Yen is a professor at UiTM Sarawak under the university’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. Her expertise include bioassay-guided fractionation and isolation of bioactive constituents from medicinal plants, standardisation of Malaysian medicinal plants, and essential oils extraction and identification.

‘Forest Treasure from the Land of Hornbills’ is a column that will be contributed periodically by UiTM Sarawak.