University of Adelaide PhD student, Lauren Chartier, is investigating if Emu oil can be used as a therapy for ulcerative colitis and colitis-associated colorectal cancer when taken orally and combined with plant extracts and herbal medicines.
Emu oil has traditionally been used to ease pain and promote healing of wounds, burns, rashes and scars when applied directly to the area. This is the first research to investigate the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer potential of orally administered Emu oil in preclinical colitis-associated colorectal cancer.
Why is this research project important?
Ulcerative colitis is an incurable inflammatory bowel disease that is increasing in prevalence worldwide. Australia has one of the highest rates of ulcerative colitis; with more than 75,000 people living with the condition. Currently, medications are prescribed to manage symptoms; however, they are largely ineffective and invasive surgery is often necessary. Surgeries are usually used to remove sections of the bowel and result in a compromised quality of life for patients. Ulcerative colitis patients are often diagnosed early in life (teens and early 20’s) and which means they are at a much higher risk of developing colorectal cancer during their lifetime.
This research aims to identify Emu oil alone, and combined with naturally-sourced therapies (plant extracts and herbal medicines), as an additional treatment to conventional colitis and colorectal cancer therapies. Furthermore, this research is crucial as Emu oil has the potential to limit side-effects of pharmaceutical treatments, improve patient quality of life and prevent the development of tumours in colitis-associate colorectal cancer.
Why did you get involved in the project?
I always knew that I was passionate about traditional and natural therapies for medical conditions. When I decided to undertake an Honours project, my supervisors Prof Gordon Howarth and Dr Suzanne Mashtoub, immediately intrigued me with their Emu oil research group. Following Honours, it was a natural progression then to do a PhD in the same field. I am drawn to this research as it is novel, multi-disciplinary and has strong connections to Traditional Australian Medicines and the agriculture industry. Additionally, as we are the only research group in the world investigating Emu oil for gastrointestinal therapies, it is exciting to be a part of research that could truly be life changing for future patients.
How will this research benefit the Ratite industry? Are there any learnings beyond this industry?
This research has the potential to largely benefit the Ratite industry because as research progresses, the demand for high-quality Emu oil will increase, supporting Emu farmers and the Australian economy as a whole. Although Emu oil is readily available to purchase, there is no solid scientific backing for dosage recommendations or therapeutic potential. We are commencing clinical trials with Emu oil and inflammatory bowel disease patients, and therefore the commercialization of Emu oil as a medical therapy for gastrointestinal conditions following these investigations is expected. Future investigations may find ways to select and refine active components of Emu oil to increase its efficacy when ingested. Therefore, this would require developments from the Ratite industry to support these advances and will further increase the demand for Emu oil products in Australia and world-wide.
What’s the best piece of professional/career advice you’ve ever been given?
As an early-career scientist and PhD student, it is very common to experience ‘imposter syndrome’ or feelings that the research being conducted is so small in the scheme of things that it will never make a difference. However, I’ve always been told to ‘look at the big picture’ and think about the end goal of saving and improving lives. To be a scientist you need confidence, passion, determination and a lot of resilience.
What have you learned about your industry from the growers/producers you have been involved with?
The Emu oil I use in my PhD research is sourced from Emu Tracks, a local South Australian Emu oil supplier. We have researched and compared Emu oil from other regions of Australia and Emus that have been fed varied diets. We concluded that there are no major differences when it comes to the fatty acid components of the oil and its efficacy in preclinical research. Therefore, this has taught us that Emu farmers throughout the country have the potential to benefit economically and produce therapeutic Emu oil products in the future.