In 2017 I came to Dr. Reddy with an unusual proposition: “I’m an archaeologist and I’ve heard about an ancient medicinal plant that might cure diabetes…want to run some lab experiments together to find out if it really works?” Fortunately, he said yes, and soon after I joined his lab as a research associate.
Over two decades ago while I was doing archaeology in Belize, a local Maya medicine man told me the “Maya spinach” that I had been eating was actually an important plant called “chaya.” The shaman noted that most people in Belize are aware that chaya is not only more nutritious than traditional spinach, but it also has anti-diabetic properties, and I have been curious about this ever since.
Some years passed, and I co-organized an anthropological research project through the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize (NICH) to interview modern Maya populations and other local Belizeans about their perspectives on and family histories with chaya. My background in biological anthropology and neuroscience is a unique blend that serves as a bridge between the "hard science" of diabetes research in the laboratory and the social science of anthropology and ethnobotany amongst communities of people living in the tropical rainforest.
Today we have assembled a multidisciplinary team of talented researchers to explore the biochemical properties and potential therapeutic benefits of Cnidoscolus chayamansa (chaya) in laboratory mice. The preliminary lab research data from these ongoing investigations have revealed promising results regarding the anti-diabetic properties of this intriguing medicinal plant. Our ultimate goal is to contribute towards the successful treatment of myriad health concerns that have affected humans for millennia.