The Pharmaceutical Biology research group deals with Pharmaceutical Botany, Phytotherapy and Pharmacognosy which, according to EEC Directive 83/570, is "the study of the composition and effects of the active ingredients contained in natural substances."
Phytotherapy is the science that deals with the treatment and prevention of human diseases by means of medicinal plants and phytotherapeutic products and that studies the curative abilities of plants or plant drugs (i.e., the parts of the medicinal plant in the dried state that are used for therapeutic purposes), general indications, relative contraindications, dosage and appropriate routes of administration. For the WHO (World Health Organization), medicinal plants "are those which, when introduced into or brought into contact with a human or animal organism, exert even mild pharmacological activity in it." Broader, however, is the meaning of the term "medicinal plant" because it includes plants used both in the pharmaceutical sector and in other industries, such as liquor, cosmetics, food, etc.
The Pharmaceutical Biology Working Group aims to disseminate as much as possible the fundamental concept that the traditional use of medicinal plants must, however, always be validated by targeted and accurate scientific investigations that equate the plant drug with conventional ones, which are obliged to meet certain quality, safety and efficacy requirements.
The scientific activity of the group consists of the botanical, phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological study of medicinal plants, aimed at the identification and chemical and biological characterization of active constituents and the selection of those potentially exploitable for therapeutic purposes.
The group's main research topics are on: quality control of plant products, specific phytochemical investigations, chemical and biological analysis of plant drugs and their extracts and of oil, wine and chocolate; optimization of extraction methods, development of analytical methods and innovative experimental procedures for the study of medicinal plants, toxicological evaluations on human cell cultures, study of antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and immunostimulant activity of plant products.
The educational activity consists of multiple postgraduate courses in which the group is deeply engaged as a director and coordinator. Postgraduate courses are a priority need for the group, being deeply convinced that the two activities, research and education, synergistically form the most fruitful path of development in the study of medicinal plants.
- Level II Master's Degree in Phytotherapy: It is a postgraduate specialist vocational degree, following the achievement of a second-cycle degree (Laurea Magistrale o Specialistica). The purpose of the Master's Degree Level 2 is to provide specific knowledge and skills in the use of techniques for the preparation of herbal medicines, as well as in-depth knowledge of medicinal plants and their preparations, their pharmaco-toxicological and therapeutic characteristics, and the areas in which phytotherapy can be used rationally with the limitations dictated by the current state of knowledge. The Master's course thus aims to train participants so that they can respond professionally to the demands of the ever-increasing number of patients who want to turn to medicinal plants to treat themselves.
- Level 1 Master's Degree in Foundamentals in Phytotherapy: It is a postgraduate specialist vocational degree, following the achievement of a first-cycle degree (Laurea - L ). The purpose of the Master's Degree Level 1 is to provide general knowledge in the use of techniques for the preparation of herbal medicines, as well as general knowledge of medicinal plants and their preparations, their pharmaco-toxicological and therapeutic characteristics, and the areas in which phytotherapy can be used rationally with the limitations dictated by the current state of knowledge. The Master's course thus aims to form participants so that they can professionally recommend to patients the most correct medicinal plant or phyto-pharmacerutical preparation.
Postgraduate Course in Phytotherapy: The purpose of the Course is to provide professional training in the field of phytotherapy. The teaching program includes general knowledge of the chemical, pharmacotoxicological characteristics of medicinal plants and the acquisition of integrative notions concerning the pathology and clinic of plant species.
The group works in collaboration with numerous companies in the herboristic and phytotherapeutic fields with the aim of improving the quality of Botanicals products on the market, carrying on quality controls of plant products, specific phytochemical investigations, and chemical and biological analysis.
- Pharmaceutical Biology Laboratory: possesses the necessary equipment to deal with the experimental research phases related to medicinal plants, from the collection of plant material, to the processes of extraction, separation and purification of active ingredients, from phytochemical analyses to in vitro and ex vivo evaluations on human cell cultures in order to assess the biological properties of plant products. The laboratory makes use of the necessary instrumentation for the preparation of plant products and the performance of the most common "pharmacognostic" assays such as specific glassware, desiccators, mills, screens, percolators, macerators, ultrasonic bath, Naviglio Extractor, distillers and extractors of various types and according to Pharmacopoeia. There is also a chemical fume hood and a laminar flow biological fume hood, thermostat stoves, an incubator, a shaker, a centrifuge, three analytical balances, six microscopes of various types.
Chemical analyses are performed by thin layer chromatography, column chromatography, UV-Vis spectrophotometer, colorimetric reactions. Biological analyses are performed in the sterile area of the research laboratory and involve the use of in vitro assays and ex vivo and immortalized human cell assays. There is equipment for Western blot, electrophoresis, ELISA kits and a plate reader.
Finally, the research laboratory makes use of fixed collaborations to expand its framework of activities, particularly with the Italian Society of Phytotherapy, the Department of Medical, Surgical and Neuroscience Sciences of the University of Siena, the Department of Experimental Medicine and Pharmacology of the University of Pisa, and the Interdepartmental Center for Mass Spectrometry of the University of Florence.
Also located at the site of Pharmaceutical Biology is SIFITLab, a project created within the framework of the S.I.Fit. (Italian Society of Phytotherapy). Starting from the scientific premise of the EFSA Compendium on the safety of botanicals, SIFITLab stands as a reference pole for the quality and safety of phytotherapeutics in Italy, presenting an implemented protocol of development, management, production and analysis of herbal products intended for trade in Europe. At the basis of SIFITLab is the quality control of the herbal product, so that the specifications required by the Pharmacopoeia and EFSA Guidelines are met, while simultaneously evaluating the various stages of the production process: choice of raw material of plant origin, drug processing, extraction method, post-extraction processing, phytochemical analysis, with particular reference to the indications of the EFSA Compendium.
Biagi Marco, PhD (research fellow)
Magnano Anna Rosa (technical staff)
Giulia Baini (research fellow)
Giorgio Cappellucci (PhD student)
Federica Vaccaro (PhD student)