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China Completes Gargantuan Herbal Medicine Database
A gigantic database of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), covering almost all domestically registered herbs and recipes, has basically been completed, marking one of the world's most comprehensive and advanced collections of information on Chinese herbs.

The database, known as "TCMinformatics," contains most domestically publicized information about herbs and recipes.

It covers more than 1,400 diseases and their symptoms, over 150,000 traditional Chinese medicinal recipes, detailed information on 9,000 kinds of herbs, including their shape, taste and production areas, and medical functions, according to the Shanghai Traditional Chinese Medicine Innovation Center -- the database's founder.

Fu Yuezhong, the centerís vice-director, said the database, which utilizes advanced information technology, effectively combines "enormous but rather sporadic" data about traditional Chinese medicine and will help further scientific study in the field.

In addition, the catalogue features an exclusive sub-database of microscopic ingredients found in the herbs.

According to Fu, the database can detail the main chemical elements in each herb and help the microscopic study of traditional Chinese medicine.

The database aims to explain Chinese herbs' "mysterious" functions, as well as to assist with the invention of new drugs, medical experts said.

Fu said the database helps tell how traditional Chinese medicines, with their chemical elements unveiled, work in line with Western medical theories, further promoting the use of Chinese herbs in the international community.

The database founders, including the main fund provider -- the Ministry of Science and Technology -- have approved cooperation with United States-based PhytoCeutica, a medical company at Yale University, to carry out further microscopic studies on traditional Chinese medicine.

The database, initiated in 2000 with millions of yuan of financial support from central and local scientific and technological authorities, is now seeking further commercial cooperation with pharmaceutical businesses to develop new drugs, either western pills or traditional Chinese recipes.

The database is housed at the city's Zhangjiang High-Tech Park -- a key national medicine research and manufacturing base for over 90 pharmaceutical companies from home and abroad.

Hui Yongzheng, director with the center and former vice-minister of science and technology, said the country's pharmaceutical sector needs to combine western medical know-how, especially promising biotechnology, with traditional Chinese medicine to create new drugs and obtain their intellectual property rights.

Hui, said biotechnology, extensively used in the pharmaceutical industry and medical diagnosis, can also modernize and industrialize traditional Chinese medicine.

Hui encourages more domestic and overseas pharmaceutical businesses to study traditional Chinese medicine using modern technology and the centerís database.

"There is a global tendency of replacing chemical medicine products with biotech and natural drugs," Hui said.

The composition of traditional Chinese medicine, made mainly from natural herbs, can be pinpointed by modern biotechnology.

Biotechnology can help improve the impact of the herbs and mass produce more and cheaper biotech medical substitutes, according to Hui.

(China Daily October 10, 2002)

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