After I finished my master’s degree at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010, I had the opportunity to pursue my doctoral studies in Austria with an ASEAN-UNINET scholarship (formerly known as Technology Grants South-East Asia). It was very nice to find that the Department of Pharmacognosy at the Institute of Pharmacy, University of Innsbruck had similar research interests which was very suitable for me. I could pursue my desire with my thesis, screening Vietnamese medicinal plants to find anti-inflammatory compounds. With the support and guidance of my professor, I not only expanded my knowledge but also learned how to work effectively.
In 2013, I came back to Vietnam and became a lecturer at my home institution. I still maintained my interest in the study of medicinal plants and kept contact with professors in Innsbruck. Our lab in Vietnam joined the international project and continued sending samples to partners in Austria for the bioactive screening, targeting inflammation, and we found some potential Vietnamese plants for further studies. I came back to Innsbruck again in 2016 for 4 months with the Ernst Mach Follow-up Grants to continue the research with a promising Vietnamese medicinal material Dracaena cambodiana. We gained very nice results with the contributions of many experts in different fields and had an outstanding publication. After this project, I had always thought about future cooperation projects with University of Innsbruck.
In 2019, I learned about the programme Cooperation Development Research (Kooperation Entwicklungsforschung - KOEF oead.at) through an email of OeAD for scholars. The aim of this programme is to support application-oriented cooperation projects between Austria higher education institutions and institution in the countries of the Global South. That notification attracted me and my colleague Nguyen Thi Xuan Dieu, who also finished her PhD degree with an Austrian scholarship. We really wanted to continue the cooperation in a project for Vietnamese plants. In Vietnam, traditional medicine still plays an important role in the healthcare system. We have rich resources of medicinal plants and valuable traditional knowledge. However, many plants have not yet been investigated, an obstacle which prevents us to exploit these valuable medicinal plants. We discussed with our former supervisor Dr. Stefan Schwaiger and decided to focus on diabetic wound healing. Diabetes is a growing problem in Vietnam associated with obesity, changes in dietary patterns, and other cultural transitions and the efforts to find new therapies are necessary. We plan to screen Vietnamese medicinal plants and determine the active compounds which are useful for medicinal purposes. We hope to open an early stage of development of novel herbal medicine products based on scientific evidence. After a long time of assessment, we received the good news that our research proposal “Searching for potential therapeutic agents for managing diabetic wounds from Vietnamese medicinal plants targeting matrix metalloproteinase-9” was chosen for funding. We planned to start the project in November 2020, but the influence of the COVID pandemic made things more difficult. However, we will try our best to pursue the research project as proposed.
Studying in Austria was a great experience for me. During that time, I discovered a lot of things about myself. I became more confident, adapted to a new environment, different cultures, maintained a good work-life. I learnt from professors, colleagues, and foreign friends not only the knowledge but also the working style. The most important thing is that I had many valuable relationships after I came back to Vietnam.
During the studies, I had opportunities to attend some international conferences. I realized that people from all over the world pay a lot of attention to natural products and traditional medicine, however the Vietnamese traditional medicine has not yet been well known. With my studies on Vietnamese plants, I could apply the potential of our Vietnamese plants for searching new drugs.
My studies in Austria gave me the opportunity to follow my passion and the promotion in my job as a lecturer. I will continue the cooperation between my home institution and the Institute of Pharmacy, University of Innsbruck through the ongoing project. Through the relationships with Austrian professors, I will also make a bridge scholarship programme or research grants for Vietnamese students and my colleagues.
I hope the COVID pandemic will soon be under control, so that I can come back to Innsbruck to conduct the KOEF project. In the future, I will continue to do research about the Vietnamese plants and maintain and widen the international cooperation.
Tran Thi Van Anh finished her master’s degree at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City in 2010 and received her PhD degree from University of Innsbruck in 2013. In 2019, she got promoted to be the head of the Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Medicine and Pharmacy at Ho Chi Minh City. Her research interests are isolation and characterization of biological active compounds from natural resources, especially plants used in Vietnamese traditional medicine and quality control herbal medicine.