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HKBU’s Biology team explores Ginseng’s health and therapeutic potentials from scientific perspective

02 Jul 2013

Professor Ricky Wong has spent more than 10 years studying the impact of the active constituents of ginseng on human cells, providing a solid ground to its potential application on healthcare treatments
Professor Ricky Wong has spent more than 10 years studying the impact of the active constituents of ginseng on human cells, providing a solid ground to its potential application on healthcare treatments

Ginseng has been widely recognised for its body strengthening and skincare properties. Professor Ricky Wong, Chair Professor, and his research team from the Department of Biology at HKBU have spent more than 10 years studying the impact of ginsenosides, the active constituents of ginseng, on human cells such as inducing collagen expression, angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels) and cytoprotective effect. During the course of their research, the team has released several papers pointing to the potential application of the properties of ginsenosides in healthcare and therapeutic treatments.

Professor Wong’s team used human skin cells to demonstrate that ginseng extract can induce collagen synthesis directly through activation of the signaling pathway. Higher concentrations of ginsenoside Rb1 is able to increase the production of collagen in a time- and dose-dependent manner. For a long time, the beauty industry has proclaimed the value of collagen synthesis in tackling wrinkle formation, a primary characteristic of skin aging. (Figure 1)

The team also found that Rb1 can promote adipogenesis, the formation of adipocytes (or fat cells) from precursor stem cells. Rb1 interacts with the receptor in adipose tissue, promoting the deposition of oil droplets without affecting cell viability, and promotes the adipogenic activity. During the process, fat storage capacity is elevated, which may lessen the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, a disease that is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Thus, the findings illustrate the anti-diabetic effect of Rb1 and its therapeutic potential in type 2 diabetes.

In another research project, Professor Wong’s team identified the role of ginsenosides as an angiogenic agent involved in the stimulation or suppression of certain diseases. The results show that Rg1, mediating and regulating the expression of certain microRNA, plays an important role in angiogenesis-related processes such as wound healing. On the other hand, the ginsenoside 20(R)-Rg3 was shown as an angiogenesis inhibitor which can inhibit the development of cancer. (Figure 2)

Cigarettes and barbecued food contain carcinogens which cause damage to DNA. The ginsenoside 20(S)-Rg3 facilitates enzyme reactions that convert carcinogens into less toxic substances that can be discharged from the body. This lessens the damage caused to cells and DNA due to the intake of carcinogenic substances. In addition, Professor Wong’s research reveals that the ginsenoside PPT and Re help reduce the inflammation and cell death of vascular endothelial cells caused by the influenza virus respectively. In other words, ginsenosides may play an important role in fighting influenza (H9N2). (Figure 3)

Professor Wong believes that the significance of this work is to use advanced technology to explore the effects of ginseng at the molecular level, thus providing a solid foundation for its future development. Having mentioned the significance of various forms of ginsenosides, Professor Wong added that further scientific investigation is required to assess the overall effectiveness of ginseng on human.

Enclosure: a summary of the major influences of various forms of ginsenosides on human cells