Hydrangea Root May be Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Posted Jan 17 2011 5:46pm
An ancient Chinese herb that has been used for 2,000 years to treat malaria and reduce fevers is now being tested for use in treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. The new drug is made from the herb chang shan, from the root of the blue evergreen hydrangea.
The active compound in chang shan, febrifugine, is too toxic for use as a modern drug. U.S. Army scientists created a febrifugine derivative called halofuginone in the 1960’s as a possible malaria drug, but discontinued additional study. Scientists had not been able to determine how the drug worked.
But recently Harvard Medical School researchers Mark S. Sundrud, PhD, Anjana Rao, PhD, and colleagues show that halofuginone inhibits Th17 cells. Th17 cells are a specific kind of immune cell that was not identified until 2006.
Researchers discovered that Th17 cells regulate autoimmune inflammatory responses. Those are the types of immune response that can result in several diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis,.
“Halofuginone may herald a revolution in the treatment of certain types of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases,” Rao says in a news release.
Current treatments for autoimmune diseases inhibit many different immune responses, which leaves patients vulnerable to infections and cancers. However, a drug that specifically inhibits one type of immune response would be a major breakthrough. It may be that Halofuginone is such a drug.
“This is really the first description of a small molecule that interferes with autoimmune pathology but is not a general immune suppressant,” Sundrud says in the news release.
An added bonus: Halofuginone could probably be taken orally, rather than by injection.
The current findings by Drs. Sundrud and Rao are based only on mouse studies. They must be refined and confirmed in humans before any actual drug is developed.
The findings of this research are published in the June 5 issue of Science.