USC PHD student Karina Hamilton.
USC PHD student Karina Hamilton. James Clifton

Native bees in for heal of a time

BEES and trees could hold the answer to wound healing problems if a University of the Sunshine Coast PhD student's research into Australian native bees proves a connection.

Biomedical Science researcher Karina Hamilton, 21, received a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council to conduct Australian studies into whether native Australian (trigona carbonaria) bees or Australia's natural flora give bee propolis wound healing, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

"The big picture is wound healing," Ms Hamilton said.

"We want to see if the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that we may or may not find contribute to the accelerated wound-healing process."

Her research project will focus on two major factors: to discover the role the bees and the environment play in the properties of bee propolis, and to isolate the compounds that are responsible for the healing qualities.

Ms Hamilton said propolis was more a plant product than a bee product and she believed a combination of the natural habitat, the fauna and flora as well as the native bee and the trees and resins the bees collected made Australian propolis unique.

Propolis is a complex substance and varies depending on what trees the bees are foraging on, while the season and climate make it quite a variable substance.

"I guess it's about the synergy aspect to it because propolis is made of up to 300 different compounds," Ms Hamilton said.

"So it might not be just one compound that's doing all the good. It might be several compounds, so it's the synergy of all the components."

Her research will look at whether the resin from the corymbia torelliana (known as the cadagi gum) is similar in medicinal properties to stingless bee propolis.

Acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Francis Peters, of Kings Beach, uses natural herbs in her busy practice and believes the body assimilates natural products more easily than chemical preparations.

"I'm a big believer in natural medicine because it heals the body and puts the body in a state where it heals itself," she said.

Queensland Beekeeper Association state president Trevor Weatherhead said he was unaware of any studies on Australian propolis but many had shown honey's medicinal properties.

"The study would be very valuable because there's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that propolis works," he said.

About 10 stingless species of social native bees (genera trigona and austroplebeia) exist buts the Australian trigona carbonaria bee interests Ms Hamilton the most.

Her research will take some time to complete and human trials will not start for about three years.


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