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Ethnopharmacology focuses on the use of traditional medicine in local communities, including its commercial applications. We welcome field studies, pharmacological and clinical studies of chemically profiled extracts, and studies on the quality and composition of naturally derived products.
This Specialty Section of Frontiers in Pharmacology subscribes to the taxonomic standards laid down most importantly at the Kew MPNS portal (http://mpns.kew.org/mpns-portal/) and also the Royal Botanic Gardens/Kew/Missouri Botanical Garden `The Plant List` initiative (www.theplantlist.org).
These standards are part of broader assessment criteria for all submitted papers, defined as 'The four pillars of best practice in ethnopharmacology'.
See more information by following the link below.
Ethnopharmacology, as a specifically designated field of research, has a relatively short history. The term was first described in 1967 as the title of a book on hallucinogens. Today, it is used for research on medicinal, psychoactive and toxic plants, and fungi or animals that are used by people world-wide as well as for research on health foods. The ethnopharmacological approach is unique in pharmacology and the natural sciences in that it also requires input from the social and cultural sciences.
Frontiers in Pharmacology (section Ethnopharmacology) publishes articles of the highest quality by focusing on evidence-based studies of nature-derived products with a local and traditional use as medicine, health food, and psychoactive agent or toxin. Research on commercial or natural extracts derived from these may also be submitted. We will consider pharmacological and clinical studies of chemically profiled extracts, ethnopharmacological field studies, and studies on the quality and composition of such plants, fungi, or animals. We are interested in all diseases of the human organ systems, but research on those common in poorer regions of the world and on neglected diseases are particularly welcome.
This section specifically focuses on biological and pharmacological activities of plants, fungi and other organisms used locally or traditionally as a medicine or to improve health. Studies with the specific aim to either improve local healthcare by developing products based on such knowledge or studies in the context of drug discovery / development from natural sources will be considered if they are based on biological resources with a clear and well-defined local or traditional use. Purely biodiversity-based screening studies and studies of established natural products and their mechanism of action are outside the scope of this section. Studies reporting such local and traditional uses will only be accepted if the comply with the ConSEFS standards (Heinrich et al. 2017; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28818646 )Toxicological research and clinical studies on medicinal plants are welcome. (See more information below - 'The four pillars of best practice in ethnopharmacology')
The following subjects are covered: clinical studies, pharmacokinetics, public health; - safety of traditional remedies/toxicology; - quality and composition traditional medicines, metabolomics, genomics; - anthropological and historical studies in ethnopharmacology; - ethnopharmacology of the gastro-intestinal system pharmacology; - treatment of dermatological conditions including opthamology and otorhinology; - ethnopharmacology of the respiratory system; - ethnopharmacology of the central nervous system; - anti-infective agents; - anti-inflammatory agents, ethnopharmacology of the musculoskeletal and joint diseases; - malignant disease and immunosuppression; - ethnopharmacology of the cardiovascular system, of metabolic disorders and the endocrine system; - ethnopharmacology in obstetrics, gynaecology, and urinary-tract disorders; and - the interface of food and medicine, nutrition in ethnopharmacology.
The four pillars of best practice in ethnopharmacology
With these guidelines we define in detail what constitutes best practice for manuscripts submitted to Frontiers in Pharmacology; Section Ethnopharmacology. They provide a basis for the peer review and build on the general requirements of Frontiers in Pharmacology.
a) The manuscript (MS) must report a substantive body of ethnopharmacological research, to be considered as an independent addition to the literature. In general, we expect that such studies are based on local / traditional uses of plants or other natural substances which need to be spelled out clearly.
b) For pharmacological studies, the model used must be one which is either generally accepted in the field as valid or a credible alternative whose general development, and application in the reported instance, has been justified.
Specifically, antioxidant activity must be based on a pharmacologically relevant in vivo or cell based model. Simple in silico and pharmacologically irrelevant assays for antioxidant activity (e.g. the DPPH assay, FRAP (Ferric Reducing Ability of Plasma), ABTS (2,2'-azinobis-(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulfonic acid)) are not acceptable as a main tool for assessing an extract or a compound for activity.
c) Similarly, simple screening for anti-microbial effects of crude extracts is no longer state-of the art. Authors must follow the widely accepted standards for microbiological testing (cf. Cos et al. 2006 Anti-infective potential of natural products: How to develop a stronger in vitro ‘proof-of-concept’ Journal of Ethnopharmacology 106: 290–302) and subsequent papers defining adequate methods. Such research is only meaningful if it contributes to our mechanistic understanding of anti-microbial effects, its specificity or identifies novel leads.
d) The dose ranges must be therapeutically relevant. While it will be impossible to define an exact cut-off, the literature in the field is now replete with studies which test extracts at implausibly high doses. Single dose studies will only be of relevance in exceptional circumstances (e.g. in case of specific complex pharmacological models). And of course, positive and negative controls must be included.
e) In order to establish therapeutic benefits, selectivity data are essential. How specific is the effect? Many compounds have non-selective in vitro effects and research on common compounds must be justified in terms of the potential therapeutic benefits. While such research may be relevant and have potential applications, authors will need to assess the specificity of a single compound or an extract rich in a well-studied compound (like rutin, curcumin, or quercitin) and provide evidence for the relevance and novelty of the approach.
The identification of the study material must be described well. All species need to be fully validated using http://mpns.kew.org/mpns-portal/?_ga=1.111763972.1427522246.1459077346 or http://www.plantsoftheworldonline.org/ or www.theplantlist.org. Of course, full botanical documentation is essential (i.e. a voucher specimen deposited in a recognized herbarium). A scan of the voucher(s) is welcome as supplementary material and encourage authors to include the date, season, coordinates of the location where the material had been collected.
- The composition of the study material must described in sufficient detail. Chromatograms with characterization of the dominating compound(s) are preferable. If preparations are used which are based on quality parameters provided in pharmacopoeia evidence must be provided that the material under study was in fact assessed using the methods of the relevant monograph.
- If ‘pure’ compounds are used sufficient information on the level of purity must be included. Especially in in vitro models, the authors must be confident that the compounds are stable under the conditions used (for example, they do not degrade due to high concentrations of DMSO). A critical aspect that should be considered is how these assays and extraction protocols are linked to local and traditional uses. In this way, variables such as the solubility of the compound in the traditional preparation and in the analytical extraction protocol should be taken into consideration
- All chemical structures must be drawn using a scientifically accepted structure drawing program, must be consistent and - if relevant and possible - the stereochemistry needs to be given.
c) Multiherbal preparations:
Very often multiherbal preparations are used. Full information on their qualitative and quantitative composition (in terms of the botanical drugs / species included) and information on the rationale for studying this preparation needs to be included. It is essential that in these cases sufficient details are provided on the botanical (2a) and chemical (2b) characterization.
3) Basic requirements and research ethics
Frontiers has very well developed guidelines relating to ethical aspects of a MS. Specifically, for Frontiers in Pharmacology (Ethnopharmacology) the following key requirements are essential:
a) The objectives of the research reported must be spelled out clearly and in detail. All MS must critically assess the scientific basis of the work and provide meaningful conclusions, which are based on a clear hypothesis / research question as defined in the introduction. Ethnopharmacological research must assess whether a compound or plant extract has a certain effect and it cannot be about ‘confirming an extract’s or compound’s effects or efficacy’.
b) Research must add new and scientifically substantive knowledge to our understanding of the pharmacology and use of medicinal plants. A key basis for this is a review of literature relevant to the pharmacological activity already reported on the species including possibly related taxa or compounds. This must be up-to-date, and clearly demonstrate the substantive addition to the literature the MS submitted represents. Simply using advanced measurements/techniques/protocols reproducing previous studies of the same plant product will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances (e.g. previously unknown, highly active components are discovered).
c) Compliance with all international ethical standards is essential. In the context of ethnopharmacology, the Convention on Biological Diversity and, most recently, the Nagoya Protocol are of particular relevance (https://www.cbd.int/abs/).
d) Research in ethnopharmacology is based on local and traditional knowledge often passed on orally over generations. Ultimately, research in this field must therefore benefit those populations who are or were the original keeper of this knowledge.
e) The use of animals must be justified in the context of novelty (see also part 1). It is ethically not acceptable to have yet another in vivo study on an already well-studied species, demonstrating some common activity (e.g. an anti-inflammatory effect studied in the rat-paw edema). The same is true for species which are chemically very similar (and generally are rich in common ingredient) to ones already studied pharmacologically. Such studies must ‘meet(s) the standards of rigor’ we expect in ethnopharmacology as defined in the Frontiers’ guidelines.
4) Other specific requirements
a) Studies focusing on local and traditional uses of plants (ethnopharmacological field studies) must be based on substantial, original data. The relevance of the MS in the context of previous studies in the geographical region must be spelled out clearly and it must contribute to the understanding of the therapeutic uses of plant species and inform experimental or clinical studies. This includes an adequate presentation and discussion of the data. Also, social science centered studies (e.g. ethnobotanical studies or health system research of local and traditional medical systems) are welcome. This journal subscribes to the ConsEFS standards including any updates (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874117324030)
b) In case of reviews, we expect clearly defined scientific aims (objectives), a comprehensive, critical and specific assessment of the relevant information linking local and other medical uses to the biomedical and bioscientific evidence. Reviews need to define future research needs and priorities. It is essential that the scientific quality of the original articles cited is assessed. If pharmacological studies are reviewed, particular attention must be paid to assessing the quality of the studies.
c) Food plants are commonly reported to have pharmacological effects. Frontiers in Ethnopharmacology focuses on therapeutic benefits of such species and not on the general food/nutritional properties.
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Ethnopharmacology welcomes submissions of the following article types: Book Review, Correction, Data Report, Editorial, Erratum, General Commentary, Hypothesis and Theory, Methods, Mini Review, Opinion, Original Research, Perspective, Protocols, Review, Specialty Grand Challenge, Systematic Review and Technology Report.
All manuscripts must be submitted directly to the section Ethnopharmacology, where they are peer-reviewed by the Associate and Review Editors of the specialty section.
Articles published in the section Ethnopharmacology will benefit from the Frontiers impact and tiering system after online publication. Authors of published original research with the highest impact, as judged democratically by the readers, will be invited by the Chief Editor to write a Frontiers Focused Review - a tier-climbing article. This is referred to as "democratic tiering". The author selection is based on article impact analytics of original research published in all Frontiers specialty journals and sections. Focused Reviews are centered on the original discovery, place it into a broader context, and aim to address the wider community across all of Pharmacology.
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