Indonesian high schoolers win international award for curing cancer in rat using rare native plant bajakah 

Anggina Rafitri (Left) and Aysa Aurealya Maharani after winning their gold medals at the World Invention Creativity Olympic in Seoul on July 25, 2019. Photo: Indonesian Young Scientists Association
Anggina Rafitri (Left) and Aysa Aurealya Maharani after winning their gold medals at the World Invention Creativity Olympic in Seoul on July 25, 2019. Photo: Indonesian Young Scientists Association

Two Indonesian high school students have been in the national spotlight recently for winning an international award for innovation for using a rare native plant to cure cancer in a rat, generating optimism in certain quarters of the country over its potential to cure cancer in humans, even as experts remain cautiously optimistic.

On July 25, Anggina Rafitri and Aysa Aurealya Maharani, two students at a public high school in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, won a gold medal at the World Invention Creativity Olympic (WICO) in Seoul. The teenagers presented evidence that they had used the root of a local plant named bajakah to create a treatment that was able to eliminate a tumor in a rat in just two weeks.

Their achievement has attracted a great deal of attention in Indonesia, most notably after Kompas TV journalist Aiman Witjaksono dedicated an episode of his popular show Aiman to bajakah, which aired last night.

In the episode, Aiman met with the girls and their teacher as well as a local man who claimed to have discovered bajakah’s supposed cancer-curing properties in the ‘70s when he used it to treat his mother’s stage 4 breast cancer. He said his mother is now cancer-free and lives a healthy life, though she did not appear in Aiman’s report.

Locals say that bajakah roots need to be ground up into powder form and diluted in water before being consumed. According to a study by researchers at Lambung Mangkurat University in South Kalimantan, bajakah roots contain numerous chemicals that could destroy tumors and cancerous cells.

Aiman was also taken to a secret location in the woods near Palangkaraya, which is said to be the only location where bajakah grows naturally.

Despite the excitement, the Indonesian Cancer Foundation (YKI) advised the public not to get carried away with thinking that Indonesia had found a cure for cancer.

“The public should not get their hopes up based on the early results of an experiment like that. Remember, there are no miracle drugs,” YKI Chairman dr Aru Sudoyo told Kompas.

“Testing on a rat is different to human applications. Oftentimes, what works on rats often yield no results in humans.”

At any rate, Central Kalimantan Governor Sugianto Sabran has instructed the province’s health agencies to assist Anggina and Aysa’s continued research into the bajakah and given the teenagers IDR30 million (US$2,109) each in grant money for their research. Furthermore, the provincial government wants to patent bajakah as a cure for cancer amid calls from the country’s researchers, including those from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), to protect the plant.

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