TrialSite News received hundreds of requests for more information about the Bajakah tree story in Indonesia. Last year, a couple of high school kids conducted an experiment finding that the indigenous tree when processed and administered to rats, eliminated a cancerous tumor. The kids won a prize and some grant money from the local Governor. A few research institutes made some noise about the affair. Does the Bajakah tree have powerful medicinal properties, or is this simply hyperbole surrounding an ancient traditional treatment? Or something else? Ultimately, the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency chimed in to set the record straight.
Back in August 2019, TrialSite News reported on the Indonesian high school students who presented their evidence that a rare native tree called a Bajakah tree had anti-cancer medicinal properties. The two students, Anggina Rafitri and Aysa Aurealya Maharani, won a gold medal at the World Invention Creativity Olympic (WICO) in Seoul, South Korea. The youths claimed they created a concoction derived from the indigenous Bajakah tree, which cured tumors in a rat in just two weeks. Central Kalimantan, Governor Sugianto Sabran, rightfully proud of the kids’ work, found a way to allocate $2,019 to each one to continue their research in high school science.
Going Viral Post Television Show
Well, it didn’t take long for this news to sweep across this large nation when Kompas TV journalist Aiman Witjakasono dedicated an episode of his popular show called Aiman to Bajakah. Television show host Aiman was taken to a secret spot in Palangkaraya, said to be the only place in Indonesia where Bajakah grows naturally. A massive wave of exuberant demand ensued.
Some Details Emerge
The students were supported enough that the high school and others with enough clout got the Bajakah samples sent to the laboratory of Lambung Mangkurat University (ULM) in Banjarmasin City. According to the local press, JawaPos, the contents of the tree bark included saponins, alkaloid, steroids, terpenoids, flavonoids, tannins, and phenolics. Reports came in that the Bajakah wood included content very rich in antioxidants, perhaps “thousands of times more than other plant species.” According to an Indonesian website, Eko Suhartono, a researcher, again with Lambung Mangkurat University, noted that the analysis concluded that the root of this tree contains many chemical pituitary cell compounds that could potentially be anti-cancerous. Other local media reports, in Indonesian, again mentioned Lambung Mangkurat University (South Kalimantan) purporting that Bajakah roots contain various chemicals that may be able to destroy tumors and cancerous cells. But how could they be so sure? No clinical research had been conducted.
Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) Response
The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) even got involved with the high schoolers research concerning the Bajakah plant and its use to cure cancer in rats. According to Tempo, Ahmad Fathoni, a LIPI researcher, was “proud” of the student researchers, believing it generates a positive brand for the nation. He was quoted in a short message via Tempo August 14, 2019 “It is informed that Bajakah can heal tumor or cancer because of its active compound of high antioxidants as an antidote of free radicals.”
The researcher went on to say that additional analysis would need to occur—identification to the scientific name for true credibility of this finding, not to mention the ability to isolate the active compound involved. Of course, what he was stating was that no medicinal claims could be declared about this local tree.
Local Lore about the Tree
As it turns out, the indigenous Dayak tribe have used this tree as a medicine against cancer by first processing it to be consumed. After all, the Dayak go back in these parts thousands of years, and this tree would fall under their traditional medicine category. According to one website promoting the tree, they first dry and chop the stems of the plant, after that they boil for about 30 minutes. They then consume as a team for a couple of months. Other locals report in local Indonesian press that Bajakah root needs to be ground up in a powder form and diluted in water before consumption. But as wise as the Dayak may be about all things in the forest, do they genuinely claim that such a tree cures cancer, or is it merely a traditional root used in a more ancient way of being?
Provincial Government Seeks Patent
Based on the press of a year ago, Indonesia news reported that the provincial government sought to patent Bajakah as a cure for cancer as domestic researchers, including members of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences to protect the plant. Officials included Fahrizal Fitri, Head of the Central Kalimantan Health Service, and Dr. Suyuti Syamsul and other officials.
And at the same time, the wave of demand grew further, thanks again to the hype from the television show and internet—including social media—high schooler experiment came out, and it would seem just triggered a boom in the peddling of the substance—regardless of whether there is scientific fact behind its efficacy. According to some reports for such a “rare plant,” it sure seems to be ubiquitous—from roadside peddlers all over parts of Central Borneo to many online peddlers. Hence the Provincial Government of Central Borneo (Central Kalimantan) issued a prohibition letter to most shipping providers in Palangkaraya stopping the sale of the wood to other regions. Online peddlers continued to grow in numbers and seemed ready to sell to anyone, anywhere, but the legality of this is in serious question.
But the Law of the Land Says…
No matter how much-frenzied exuberance about the potential of Bajakah—even if based on one truly upbeat high school experiment and a local Indonesian television show ultimately a society’s rules and laws will take effect. From the start, the authorities emphasized that the tree didn’t represent a cure for cancer until it could go through the proper scientific and legal processes—e.g., the clinical trials process—to establish such a formal, state declaration. Hence, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) of Central Kalimantan office, the epicenter of the tree’s ecosystem, declared it illegal to label Bajakah as a cancer medicine from nature as not one real clinical test had been conducted. The authorities approved the selling of the natural substance as a traditional medicine but imposed strict parameters for claims, and strictly outlaws any medicinal claims. That was announced by Trikoranti Mustikawati, BPOM Central Kalimantan head. Ms. Mustikawati commented that any claim that Bajakah was a medicinal treatment “can be a public deception.” And her office was involved with a series of inspections of local sellers—in the process discovering that many peddlers were overstating the plant’s benefits. Mustikawati continued, “So we call in those traders for training and warn them not over to claim their products as well as order them to immediately request a distribution permit.”
Hence the Bajakah peddlers are on notice—making a claim that this tree can cure cancer, and you could find yourself in legal trouble—at least in certain parts of Indonesia.