Going Herbal...

February 13, 2012

Torah Kachur

Traditional Chinese medicine has often gotten away with absurb and unfounded claims like shark fins for immune boosting and bear bile for reducing cholesterol, or the famous NanoEnergy Pants for, well, so  you can say you are wearing NanoEnergy Pants - but what if, occassionally, they get it right? Researchers from Harvard Dental School published in Nature Chemical Biology that a Traditional Chinese Medicine strategy of using hydrangeas for malarial treatment actually has a molecular basis.  The active ingredient in the flowers found mostly in Tibet and Nepal is halofuginone (HF) which has now been shown to block development of a particularly damaging immune cell called Th17 cells.



Th17 cells are thought to have a major role in autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  The Th17 cells are the nasty little bastards that cause inflammation as your immune system attacks yourself, instead of foreign invaders.  The halofuginone from flowers seems to block the development of these cells.  The active ingredient seems to block a recently discovered cell communication pathway that can trigger Th17 cell formation, as well as other cellular effects.  The full downstream effects haven't been fully elucidated yet, but you can bet that BigPharma is going to be touting a HF cure-for-everything pretty darn soon.


So, Chinese Medicine Practitioners might take these results as proof that all their treatments are valid and scientifically proven, except of course the hydrangeas were being used to treat malaria - not, in fact, what the active compound is at all good for.


Keller, T., Zocco, D., Sundrud, M., Hendrick, M., Edenius, M., Yum, J., Kim, Y., Lee, H., Cortese, J., Wirth, D., Dignam, J., Rao, A., Yeo, C., Mazitschek, R., & Whitman, M. (2012). Halofuginone and other febrifugine derivatives inhibit prolyl-tRNA synthetase Nature Chemical Biology DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.790



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