An ancient Chinese remedy for Malaria has potential to treat a range of autoimmune conditions.
The discovery is being hailed an “exciting example” of the link between traditional herbal medicine and new approaches to disease treatment.
The Chinese remedy is made from the root of a type of hydrangea – Chang Shan – that grows in Tibet and Nepal.
Halofuginone (HF), a compound derived from the root has now been shown to trigger a response which blocks the development of a harmful group of immune cells implicated in many autoimmune disorders.
These Th17 cells, which were first recognized in 2006, are implicated in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.
“HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether,” said Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the new study.
“This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders.”
The development is being described by the researchers as an exciting example of how traditional herbal medicine can lead both to new insights into physiological conditions and to new approaches in the treatment of disease.
Previous research has shown that the same HF compound reduced scarring in tissue scleroderma – a tightening of the skin – multiple sclerosis, scar formation and even cancer progression.
The current study is published in Nature Chemical Biology