Amy Greeson wants to uncover the world’s hidden wonders of medicine

The Highpoint Enterprise WebsiteBy: Jimmy Tomlin of the High Point Enterprise –
Originally Published: July 2010. 

HIGH POINT – As beautiful as the rosy periwinkle may be, Amy Greeson sees a different kind of beauty in the plant – specifically, a healing beauty.

Greeson, a High Point pharmacist, knows that two extracts from rosy periwinkle – an endangered plant endemic to Madagascar – are commonly used as chemotherapy agents in the treatment of cancer. And if rosy periwinkle possesses that kind of healing properties, what other exotic species could be equally beneficial to the world of medicine?

“Over 55 percent of the pharmaceuticals we use today actually come from nature, and that includes over 80 percent of our antibiotics,” says Greeson, founder of the nonprofit organization Healing Seekers. “There’s just an enormous amount of prescription drugs that people have no idea they originated from a natural source.”

Therein lies the mission of Healing Seekers, a nonprofit organization devoted to exploring the remote regions of the world in search of medical treatments and cures. Greeson takes a small team with her to these remote regions, where they meet with traditional healers and gather indigenous plants in an attempt to find new potential treatments.

The team has been to the Amazon, the Andes and Madagascar, and a trip to New Guinea is planned for September. Greeson expects to visit Uganda and the Congo in 2011.

“When we were in Madagascar, we asked the first five healers we met with, ‘How many outsiders have you talked to about your medicine?’” recalls Greeson, a 43-year-old Thomasville native. “Every one of them said we were the first – we were the first ones who had sat down and wanted to know how they were treating people in their villages. That’s an enormous amount of untapped knowledge, and we’re losing these libraries at an enormous rate because of the loss of cultures.”

That, in fact, is how Greeson got the idea for Healing Seekers. About five years ago, during a visit to the Amazon, she noticed a significant increase in development, resulting in the destruction of the environment and a diminishing of the culture. She decided to interview the Amazonian medicine men about their healing traditions, filming the interviews for educational purposes.

“The footage turned out to be really good,” Greeson says. “One thing led to another, and we decided to start exploring the most remote and biodiverse areas of the world, bringing awareness to the environment – especially their medical treatments – and hoping what we did could maybe change attitudes toward the environment and how important it is.”

The Healing Seekers mission is twofold – part research and part education.

The research mission is to bring back plant species that could lead to new treatments and cures for various diseases.

“Right now we have about 40 plant extracts that are at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Greeson says. “Scientists are analyzing those for potential activity against cancer and AIDS.”

The educational component, Greeson continues, is designed to bring a new type of learning to schoolchildren through a series of Healing Seekers videos.

“We want them to explore the world and see things differently than they’ve seen them before,” she says.

“We also want them to look within themselves and find their own passions and desires. By finding their own passions, they can find their own path in the world. Once they find that path – and have that passion backing it up – then they can contribute to the world in ways they never dreamed. We want to stimulate that desire to learn.”

The Healing Seekers mission, while noble, comes at a steep cost for a nonprofit organization. The cost to send a small team on an expedition to, say, Madagascar can be as high as $100,000 – and that mostly just covers transportation and the cost of guides and interpreters. The upcoming trip to New Guinea likely will cost about $120,000, Greeson estimates.

To that end, she’s in the process of applying for grants and other funding sources. Healing Seekers also will host a fundraiser Tuesday evening that will feature guest speaker Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of the famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau. Greeson will also discuss the Healing Seekers mission and will debut the organization’s latest educational video, “The Circle of Life.”

Tickets are $50 apiece, but the ultimate payoff could be tremendous, Greeson says.

“What we’re doing could lead to finding new treatments and cures,” she says. “We have to look, though, because I know the answers are out there.”

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