Boost for Australia’s medicinal agriculture industry

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has launched a major medicinal agriculture research hub at La Trobe University, where work is underway to optimise the production of active components in medicinal plants.

Scientists at the hub are looking at medicinal cannabis, and are seeking to identify the potential mode of action of other medicinal plants in diseases, such as cancer.

The $24 million La Trobe-led Australian Research Council (ARC) Industry Transformation Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture (ARC MedAg Hub) combines academic and industry research and expertise to drive better cultivation, breeding and manufacturing practices to support Australia’s medicinal agriculture industry and ultimately improve health outcomes for patients.

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar said the Hub, located in La Trobe’s Research and Innovation Precinct, was a key component of the University’s $5 billion City of the Future plan.

“The ARC MedAg Hub will bring together La Trobe’s leading agri-medicine researchers with industry partners to drive innovation, new product development and employment in Australia’s fast-growing medicinal agriculture sector” Professor Dewar said.

Hub Director, Professor Tony Bacic said initial research was focused on medicinal cannabis due to the considerable anecdotal evidence and growing community perceptions around its efficacy for a broad range of diseases and for pain control.

“Our work is addressing legitimate concerns of health practitioners seeking evidence-based research into the quality, purity and efficacy of cannabis products,” Professor Bacic said.

“We need to better understand which cannabis extract components are active in reducing clinical symptoms of disease.

“We also need to understand factors leading to better production outcomes for key active components of medicinal cannabis.”

Professor Bacic said researchers from La Trobe and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) are working to identify components of cannabis oil displaying anti-cancer activity in breast cancer cell cultures.

“This research will improve our understanding of active components or component mixtures and form the basis for further pre-clinical or clinical trials.

“Future research will examine extracts from other medicinal plants including Australian species,” Professor Bacic said.

Hub Research Director, Professor Jim Whelan said another project aimed to develop hand-held devices able to accurately monitor plant health and growth.

“We’re working with industry partners Cann Group and Photon Systems Instruments to study how active components of medicinal cannabis plants respond to various environmental conditions,” Prof Whelan said.

‘We’re developing phenotyping and hyperspectral imaging hardware and software to identify how plants respond to a range of nutrient and other environmental conditions, with the ultimate aim of creating a hand-held detector for producers.”

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