Pennington Study Looks to Louisiana Folk Medicine for Diabetes Treatment Clues

Sep 14, 2015

The Mamou, also known as the Coral Bean
Credit Peter Gallagher

The Mamou, sometimes called the Coral Bean, is a large shrub that grows here in Louisiana. Maybe you’ve seen one: it produces bright, scarlet flowers and distinctive bean pods.

“When the bean pod splits open,” says botanist Larry Allain, “the beans are brilliant red. And the Indians would drill ‘em and use ‘em as jewelry. But the Cajuns used them to make cough medicine and blood thinner.”

 

Larry Allain works for the United States Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, and he’s about to take an axe to the Mamou in front of us. But there’s a reason for his butchery: Allain is part of a new study out of Pennington Biomedical Research Center investigating the healing potential of native Louisiana plants. Specifically, plants formerly used in Cajun and Creole folk medicines. Anik Boudreau works on the harvested plants back in the lab at Pennington.

“We’re looking for plants that look like they may have a positive effect on metabolic health,” she says.

In particular: things that have to do with diabetes. Typically, Boudreau’s lab tests plants from around the world. So, working from a list of plants that are already associated with healing makes sense as a research method. And they’ve already seen some positive results. So far they’ve tested about 100 extracts, and about 10 percent of those may be effective. But it’s still early in the process, so she’s quick to add this caveat: 

“When I say that it was effective,” says Boudreau, “it was effective in increasing insulin-mediated, AKT phosphorylation in a context of insulin resistance, in this particular muscle cell line that’s growing in a dish.”

So what does that mean?

“It’s not: it’s effective in treating diabetes,” says Boudreau.

So, the work continues.