Dr Tien Huynh has travelled to many regions of Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka to research the exceptional health benefits of the Vietnamese gấc fruit and its ability to destroy cancer cells.
Dr Huynh is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne and the only Vietnamese woman named by Science & Technology Australia as one of the 30 “Superstars of STEM”, selected from more than 300 applicants in August 2017.
In Vietnam, the gấc fruit is well-known and often cooked with sticky rice to make xôi gấc. In Sri Lanka, it is used in a curry, and in Thailand it is eaten as an ice cream. According to Dr Huynh’s studies, the natural compounds in gấc have unique health benefits, particularly as a treatment against forms of cancer such as melanoma and breast cancer.
“The research findings show that gấc contains up to 54 times more β-carotene than carrots and 200 times more lycopene than tomatoes. Gấc is made of substances that can kill 85-90% of cancer cells, especially in skin and breast cancer,” Dr Huynh said.
“I would like to promote the benefits of gấc fruit, supported by science-based evidence, so everyone can use this natural product as part of their daily consumption, as this fruit is native to Vietnam, easily grown and readily accessible.”
Dr Huynh encourages people in Vietnam to use gấc in everyday meals, for example with rice or consumed with coffee, in order to improve their health.
“I explored more than 18 provinces in Vietnam, four provinces in Thailand and three provinces in Sri Lanka and found the fruit in Vietnam to be the best, with high nutrition content, strong bioactivity against cancers and the greatest diversity, especially in central and northern Vietnam, where some fruits weigh over four kilograms,” she said.
According to Dr Huynh, the use of science and technology to confirm the health benefits of the fruit and improve the farming process will help protect the environment, save time and improve incomes for Vietnamese farmers.
Mr Nguyen Cong Kha, Director of the An Giang Biotechnology Center, which Dr Huynh recently visited to discuss future agricultural projects, believes the research is very valuable.
"I really appreciate the research project and its highly practical applications,” said Mr Kha.
In addition to the study of gấc, Dr Huynh currently focuses her research on cancer, tissue repair, neuropharmacology and drug discovery technologies.
While working on her unique projects, Dr Huynh also serves as a mentor for female Asian students and academics, inspiring them to reach for greatness and overcome challenges in their lives and careers. She also leads overseas work programs and transformative, sustainable projects.
During her recent trip to Vietnam, Dr Huynh, along with a group of Australian Environmental and Biotechnology Honours students, worked on research projects on the benefits of cocoa, coffee and moringa in wound care treatment, brain health and cancer.
Story: Le Mong Thuy