Department of Biological and Pre-Clinical Studies

The department is one of the three departments of the Institute of Traditional Medicine (ITM) involved in research, training and consultancy services. The Department has six academic members of staff as follows: Associate Research Professors (2), Research Fellows (2), Assistant Lecturer (1) and Tutorial Assistant (1). In addition, there are two technical staffs; a technician and laboratory assistant.

Major Functions

(i) Screening of herbs collected from traditional healers to establish the presence of pharmacological activity.

(ii) To carry out toxicological, pharmacokinetic and toxic kinetic studies on plants used by traditional healers to treat various ailments and generate knowledge which will form the basis for:

  • Assessment of the safety of different natural products used in the country.
  • Recommendation to the public on the safety of different natural products used by Traditional Healers.
  • Regulatory approval of newly developed formulations or drugs

(iii) To search for reliable, simple and reproducible bioassays for preliminary general screening of crude drug preparations.

(iv) To identify the mechanism of action of natural products used by Traditional Healers and suggest possible lines of development of products from isolated active compounds.

(v) To carry out standardization of indigenous and exotic medicinal plant products.

(vi) To collaborate with the Department of Natural Products Chemistry in the Bio-assay guided fractionation and    isolation of active compounds from plant extracts.


In future, the Institute and the department intend to establish a related Department of Clinical Evaluation that will be responsible to carry out the following functions:

(i) To plan and conduct clinical trials to establish the efficacy of traditional medicines within ethical and scientific requirements.

(ii) To monitor the practice by traditional healers as a means to regulate the practice and identify effective therapies which can be taken up for drug development.

(iii) To monitor short term and long term toxicities due to traditional medicines.

 (iv) To support regulatory approval of developed drugs by generating the clinical data needed for drug approval.


1. Research

HIV/AIDS Projects:

HIV research work involves various plants including of the genus Combretum, Terminalia, Garcinia, Carissa. These species have been earmarked as potential sources of bioactive anti-HIV-1 compounds. Screening of the crude extracts, fractions and isolated compounds for antimicrobials, cytotoxicity (BST), for HIV-1 PR and RT inhibition and HIV-1 neutralization activities are on-going activities.

In-vivo and in-vitro antimalarial testing:

In-vivo testing for antimalarial activity using the Plasmodium berghei model in mice has been strengthened by involving PhD students. Two academic staffs have attended training on malaria parasite culturing techniques. In addition, basic equipments for in-vitro anti-malarial testing have been procured and a laboratory dedicated for cell culture work has been established.

Pest and vector control for health and crop protection.

Studies geared into isolation of active compounds for pest and vector control for health and crop protection have been initiated. Facilities to test for mosquitocidal activities have been established whereby there are three on-going projects. One of the projects is seeking to isolate compounds and formulate mosquito larvicidal agents. The other two projects are searching for botanicals for crop protection in collaboration with Sokoine University of Agriculture.

Antimicrobial testing:

This program mainly involves in vitro and in vivo evaluation of plant extracts and isolated compounds against bacteria and fungi. An in vivo model of Candida infection in mice was developed and in vitro microtitre assays for bacteria and fungi. The programme also involves collaboration with clinicians in the area of clinical trials of antifungal agents, and in vitro studies using clinical oral Candida isolates.

Cytotoxicity testing:

The brine shrimp lethality assay is a well-established preliminary test for toxicity, but also a screening tool for possible anticancer activity as well as other non-specific biological activities. The Institute of Traditional Medicine has continued collaboration with National Institute for Cancer (NCI) for joint research on Phyllanthus engleri, a promising anticancer source of englerins A and B. Englerin A which has shown 1,000-fold selectivity against six of eight renal cancer cell lines.

Anti convulsant testing: 

Testing for anticonvulsant activity using the chemical-induced convulsions model with picrotoxin and pentylenetetrazol are well established at the Department. This is one of the areas which generated publications and further activities are ongoing in Mahenge District and at the Institute with the support of Sida.

Anti-TB Natural Products research:

Search for anti-TB compounds from Tanzanian medicinal plants is an on-going process. Two anti-TB assays have been established: Whole cell inhibition assay (using Mtb marker organisms), and the enzyme assay which inhibits Mycothione reductase redox cycle. Furthermore, various analytical instruments for the assays have been procured.

Anti-ulcers research

Currently several models of anti-ulcer studies have been in use. The Ethanol/Hydrochloric acid, aspirin and indomethacin models have been used to induce gastric ulcers in rats. Using these models, several plant species were tested for their protective effect and some were found to be gastro-protective. The Department is intending to develop other peptic ulcer models to facilitate understanding the mechanisms of antiulcer activity of plant extracts. Helicobacter pylori  is implicated in peptic ulcer disease and therefore testing herbal extracts against this bacterium can provide an additional information regarding the use of medicinal plants in the treatment of peptic ulcers. The Department is now in the process of getting the standard strains of this bacterium so as to be used as a screening tool.


Anti-diabetes research

The Oral glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) is commonly used to screen medicinal plants with oral hypoglycaemic potential.  A number of publications have been obtained through the research works in this area.


2. Training programme

The department participates in training of postgraduate students; by teaching three modules namely TM 604-1 Basic Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Techniques, TM 604-2 General Principles of the Quantitative and Qualitative aspects of Drug Action, and TM 604-3 Pre-Clinical Safety Testing and Good Laboratory Practice to MSc Traditional Medicine Development Programme students as well as PhD students. The members of staff in the department are also involved in teaching of short course on Traditional Medicine Development to Traditional Health Practitioners every year. The senior staffs are also involved in supervision of both Masters Dissertations and PhD Theses.


3. Consultancy

Some of the consultancies which have been done include evaluation of medicinal plants for anti-ulcer activity and evaluation of a dental formula.  Other areas of consultancy include training of Traditional Health Practitioners and conducting different bioassays that are available in the department.

Contact US

P.O. Box 65001, Dar es Salaam,
Direct Line: 21500096, 2150302-6 Ext 216, 2150302-6 Ext. 262