Student researcher helps study plants that could aid diabetics

A SUNY Oswego student researcher will make a presentation at Quest on Wednesday, April 13, about how he has advanced chemistry faculty member Webe Kadima’s years-long study in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on plants that help diabetic patients.

Webe Kadima, left, associate professor of chemistry, and senior Tyler Maxon.The talk on trace metals found in plants with exotic names like musanga and paropsia will be among more than 200 presentations, exhibitions and ceremonies at Quest, the college’s annual spring day to celebrate faculty and student scholarship and creativity. The presentation, at 11:45 a.m. in Room 104 of Lanigan Hall, will be free and open to the public.

“Dr. Kadima and I are looking at what’s in these plants that makes them bioactive,” said Tyler Maxon, a senior chemistry major from Sackets Harbor. “My work has been to assist in quantifying trace metal contents like chromium.”

Maxon, who will attend graduate school in the fall at the SUNY College of Optometry in Manhattan, plans a 30-minute presentation, including a question-and-answer session, at 11:45 a.m. April 13 in Room 104 of Lanigan Hall. It is part of his senior capstone project in chemistry.

Kadima, associate professor of chemistry, said Maxon’s project is among the painstaking analyses needed to identify how plants used in traditional medicine in the DRC work to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic patients.

“Most African mothers when I was growing up would treat their children with natural remedies,” said Kadima, who was born in Burundi and moved to Congo at age 4. “One thing I remember my mother doing is, if we had a high fever, she would cut some eucalyptus leaves, boil them and cover us with a blanket while we breathed in the vapor for 30 minutes to an hour.”

Scientific approach

Her father was a diabetic, Kadima said, and as she learned Western medical approaches to the disease in school, she was disappointed when her father turned to traditional herbal treatments. He died of complications of the disease when Kadima was away in college at the University of Montreal in Canada.

“That was my attitude toward traditional medicine,” she said. “Becoming a scientist changed that— as a scientist I learned that lots of Western manufactured drugs initially were extracted from plants.”

Congo, which encompasses the world’s second-largest rainforest, is rich in flora, yet many of its diabetes patients are poor, Kadima said. “I realized the plants growing wild in Congo could provide an affordable alternative solution to the cost of manufactured drugs like insulin and many oral drugs,” she said. “I wanted to contribute to developing a solution for diabetics.”

Kadima has made trips to Kinshasa since 2006 for research, including studying powdered extracts of plants such as laportea, musanga and paropsia. In 2009, she received permission from the DRC’s Ministry of Health to conduct preliminary trials with about 50 diabetics at a medical center on the outskirts of Kinshasa.

“I’m the first person to conduct a systematic clinical study of these plants,” she said.

Funding sought

The results have been promising, she said. The three types of plants Kadima has studied all showed marked effects in lowering blood glucose levels in patients—though extracts from the same plants in the same amounts did not have the same effect on all.

To approach the issue of dosage, much more analytical work needs to be done, Kadima said. Her study has been self-funded for the last two years, and she continues to apply for grants that would assist the research. In as short a time as possible, she wants to produce packaged medications in specific doses.

“My first preoccupation is to make this accessible to those who can’t afford (Western medical treatment),” Kadima said. “And that’s my commitment. That’s my priority.”

Maxon said he is proud to have a role in helping his capstone mentor move toward her goal. “The reward I get out of this work is taking all my classes throughout my career at SUNY Oswego, putting them together and applying that learning toward something that the world can use,” he said.

For more information and a schedule, visit and

PHOTO CAPTION: Tracing chemicals—Dr. Webe Kadima, left, associate professor of chemistry at SUNY Oswego, talks with Tyler Maxon, a senior chemistry major, as he loads plant extracts into the test tray of a Varian 820-MS ICP mass spectrometer, rear. Maxon will make a presentation about his capstone project to measure trace metals in plants that grow wild in Congo at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, April 13, in Room 104 of Lanigan Hall during SUNY Oswego’s Quest.

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(Posted: Apr 06, 2011)

Tags: world awareness, quest, kadima, health, diabetes, congo, capstone