RMIT researcher Dr Tien Huynh has travelled across south-east Asia to learn about the exceptional health benefits of the Vietnamese gac fruit and its ability to destroy cancer cells.
In Vietnam, gấc is well-known and often cooked with sticky rice to make xôi gấc. In Sri Lanka, it is used in curries, and in Thailand it is eaten as an ice cream.
According to Huynh’s studies, the natural compounds in gấc have unique health benefits, particularly as a treatment against 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,” Huynh said.
“Gấc is made of substances that can kill 85-90% of cancer cells, especially in skin and breast cancer,” 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.”
A Senior Lecturer at RMIT, last year named by Science and Technology Australia as one of 30 “Superstars of STEM”, Huynh focuses her research on cancer, tissue repair, neuropharmacology and drug discovery technologies.
She 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 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.
Nguyen Cong Kha, Director of the An Giang Biotechnology Center, which Huynh visited to discuss future agricultural projects, says the research is highly valuable.
“I really appreciate the research project and its highly practical applications,” Kha said.
While working on her research projects, Huynh also serves as a mentor for female Asian students and academics, and leads overseas work programs and transformative, sustainable projects.
During a recent trip to Vietnam, Huynh and a group of 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.
She is currently in Vietnam with a new cohort of undergraduate and postgraduate students, leading a 12-week intensive research and study tour in rural areas to explore projects in environmental sciences, engineering, plant sciences, food sciences, biotechnology and biological sciences.