Stacy James is passionate about finding and developing natural medicinal products in a manner that benefits both the environment and society, and is finding Trent’s Sustainability Studies graduate program the perfect platform to advance her career.
“The elements of the program really are what I need to get me to the next level of my professional career, both in terms of academia and the work that I want to do within my community and other business desires that I have,” Stacy explains. “The program is truly diverse and prepares you for a career in a wide range of sectors, such as government, NGOs, academia, and business, by looking at sustainability in terms of the environment, economics or business, and society.”
Attending Trent as part of the Sustainable Guyana Program, Stacy is applying her background in pharmaceutical sciences to gain a deeper understanding of the uses and chemical nature of the oils derived from the crabwood tree.. She will be focusing her work on two species of the plant, which grow abundantly in Guyana’s rainforests, one of which was only discovered a few years ago.
Respecting the value-add of traditional knowledge
“There is still a lot of research to be done about these plants to gain a better understanding of their chemical nature,” Stacy says. “Crabwood oil is used as traditional medicine in Guyana and other countries, so having a scientific understanding of the components of the oil could lead to the future development of medicinal products.”
Crabwood oil (also referred to as andiroba oil) is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and is used in a variety of products – it is well-known for its antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties and is also widely used in hair and skin care and as an insect repellent. Some studies have even found that crabwood has anti-malarial properties.
Although Stacy’s research focuses on the chemical composition of crabwood tree oil, she is also interested in product development and the social impact connected to that development.
“Here my coursework at Trent comes into play again. I am learning how one would approach such a business in a sustainable way, being aware of the impact this will have on the ecosystem, and how this can be done in collaboration with the Indigenous communities who have been using this product for generations,” Stacy explains. “My research will have a social and environmental impact, and those two things are always top of mind for me when I think about working with this plant.”
Crabwood is a popular timber product, and Stacy believes that investigating its medicinal benefits from a sustainability perspective will allow for the better utilization and conservation of this plant in the forestry sphere as well. She also shares that she has truly come to value the importance of preserving Indigenous traditional knowledge and incorporating that knowledge into Western science since arriving at Trent.
“It's easy to say ‘oh, you know, those are old ways of thinking, but they really are quite relevant. We can use scientific research and investigation to enhance the utilization or to garner other benefits from these traditional medicines,” Stacy adds. “Being here and having exchanges with Elders from Indigenous communities, I'm truly understanding how everything has its place in terms of contributing to our development.”
Honing her skills alongside Trent’s expert faculty
Stacy will be bringing samples back to Trent to conduct her investigation alongside Biology professor Dr. Neil Emery and director of the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research and the Sustainable Guyana Program, Dr. Suresh Narine.
“The general exposure that I'm getting, meeting different people who are experts in their fields and learning from them, sharing knowledge with them and working in the laboratory facilities here has been amazing,” Stacy shares about her Trent experience to date. “This has really changed my perspective in many ways.”
Stacy is looking forward to returning to the University of Guyana and sharing her knowledge with her students, and dreams of one day adding an entrepreneurship component to her work.
“It is very ambitious, but there is definitely room for entrepreneurship in academia,” she says. “Whatever I do, I hope to have a positive impact by improving research capacity, especially for natural products.”
This story is part of a series of profiles of the first cohost of students in the Sustainable Guyana Program, a collaboration between Trent University, the University of Guyana, CGX Energy Inc., and Frontera Energy Corporation empowering the Guyana’s next generation of environmental leaders.