The Harvard Project, Peru

Site Visit

  • Date: Fall 2008
  • Site visitor : Ferdinando Pisani


Mirabilis jalapa bright pink flower and green leaves

Photo by Khalid Mahmood, 2007 / Public domain

Clavillia (Mirabilis jalapa), also known as "marvel of Peru," is a perennial herb mainly used to kill viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. This plant has many active compounds such as triterpenes, proteins, flavonoids, alkaloids, and steroids. A group of amino acid-based proteins called MAPs protect against plant viruses.


Just like the library of Alexandria was a beacon of knowledge of the ancient world, today Harvard University harbors the same kind of allure. FAIM is very fortunate to collaborate with such a prestigious institution, which has been in the forefront of scientific research worldwide.

Starting from an initiative by The Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School, FAIM is promoting bilateral agreements with Peruvian public scientific research institutions. Due to the presence of a permanently staffed office in Peru, FAIM was able to cultivate these relationships with the aim of establishing research programs to study the country's rich patrimony of medicinal plants. It is Harvard's true interest to make available its state-of-the-art technology and research labs to screen Peru's medicinal plants in a win-win scenario that would equally and fairly benefits the partners.

Unbeknownst to many who are familiar with the vast plant pharmacopias of traditional Chinese and Indian Medicine, Peru also has a legacy of traditional and ancient plant use. In fact, it is estimated that currently there are about 3000 medicinal plants sold in the various rural marketplaces around the country. Most of these have never been properly studied, even though there is a vast experience in their use. To these, one must add the myriad possible compounds that can be derived through a random screening process of plants, especially from the Amazonian rain forest that comprises nearly 50% of the Peruvian territory. In fact, Harvard has developed rapid essay analysis that allows compounds to be easily screened for known mechanisms of action. It is Harvard's goal that such partnerships lead to major breakthroughs. It is the hope that the discovery of new medicines can also produce economically viable and environmentally sustainable alternatives to other forms of traditional exploitation of the rainforest.

Given the delicate issue of Intellectual Property Rights, such partnerships can have devastating effects if not properly instituted, especially in this moment that Peru has entered into a free trade agreement with the US. It is FAIM's role to promote that this process of negotiation and collaboration proceeds in a true spirit of solidarity for the progress of humanity as a whole.