15 February 2012

Chinese medicine at the molecular level

A selective immunosuppressant was found in the root of Tibetan hydrangea

ABC Magazine based on materials from Harvard School of Dental Medicine:
Molecular Secrets of Ancient Chinese Herbal Remedy Revealed

For 2 thousand years, Chinese folk healers have been treating malaria with the help of Chang Shan root extract, obtained from a variety of hydrangeas growing in Tibet and Nepal.

Scientists have long assumed that the bioactive ingredient of this extract – halofuginone – is able to treat many autoimmune diseases. A recent study in laboratory mice proved that this is the case and explained the molecular mechanisms underlying the action of this substance.

As researchers from the Harvard School of Dentistry write in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, halofuginone triggers a stress-reactive pathway that blocks the formation of immune cells called Th17. These cells are involved in the development of the strongest immune response and are involved in the mechanism of development of many autoimmune diseases.

"At the same time, halofuginone acts selectively only on Th17 cells and does not suppress the activity of the immune system as a whole," notes Malcolm Whitman, professor of biology at Harvard School. He is confident that their discovery will be a breakthrough in physiology and immunology. It gives hope to patients suffering from autoimmune intestinal inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Halofuginone is also able to accelerate tissue scarring, slow down the development of scleroderma, multiple sclerosis and even the progression of cancer.

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