Rapid test developed for traditional Chinese medicine

Scientists in China have developed a simple, 10-minute test for authenticating traditional Chinese medicines (TCM), which are prone to adulteration and counterfeiting.

The team from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Food Safety and Technology Research Centre developed the test for some of the most commonly-used herbal ingredients in TCM, including Ganoderma (‘Lingzhi’ in Chinese), and Gastrodiae rhizoma (‘Tianma’) which are both listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia (ChP).

At the moment, fingerprint chromatography is generally used to authenticate and differentiate Lingzhi and Tianma species as it can provide comprehensive chemical composition of a sample, but this is a labour-intensive and time-consuming method and takes several hours to complete.

The new technique is based on direct ionization mass spectrometry (DI-MS) and is described in a paper published in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta. The PolyU team – led by Dr Yao Zhongping (pictured) – used DI-MS to detect the major active components of Lingzhi (ganoderic acids) and Tianma (gastrodin, parishin B/parishin C/and parishin).

According to the paper it can rapidly distinguish between “easily confused” species and identify those known to lack the active factors thought to be responsible for their clinical benefits. It can also separate wild from cultivated samples and map them to a geographic location.

That’s no mean feat, as there are approximately 80 Lingzhi species while only two of them, known as Chizhi and Zizhi, are described in ChP. Some other Lingzhi species which have similar appearances are commonly found to be confused with the official species. Meanwhile, Tianma is easily confused with two counterfeit species, namely Cacalia davidii (Franch.) Hand.-Mazz. and Canna edulis Ker.

“The method developed by PolyU is simple, rapid, reproducible and can be easily adopted by researchers in relevant fields as no additional specialized device is required,” says the university in a statement.

“It has the potential to be further expanded for analysis of other herbal medicines, for example, Heshouwu and Wuweizi, and therefore is expected to bring positive impact on the Chinese herbal medicine industry

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