Medical

Plant powder snatches malaria victims from death's door

Plant powder snatches malaria ...
Weathers has made several high-producing versions of the plant using tissue cultures 
Weathers has made several high-producing versions of the plant using tissue cultures 
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Weathers has made several high-producing versions of the plant using tissue cultures 
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Weathers has made several high-producing versions of the plant using tissue cultures 
The tablets made from the Artemisia annua plant
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The tablets made from the Artemisia annua plant
Weathers with the Artemisia plant
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Weathers with the Artemisia plant

When 18 malaria patients in the Congo failed to respond to conventional treatments and instead continued to head toward terminal status, doctors knew they had to act fast – and try something different. So instead of turning to more synthetic drugs, they turned instead to nature and found a solution that delivered remarkable results.

The patients were first treated with the regimen described by the World Health Organization (WHO): artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). This drug combines an extract from a plant known as Artemisia annua, with other drugs that launch a multi-pronged attack on the malaria parasite. But just as is the case with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the malaria parasite is evolving to resist the drugs designed to kill it. In fact, according to the WHO, three of the five malarial parasites that infect humans have shown drug resistance.

As the patients continued to decline, with one five-year-old even entering into a coma, the doctors administered a drug called artesunate intravenously, which is the preferred course of action when treating severe malaria. The treatment didn't work.

Finally, doctors turned to the Artemisia annua plant itself. Also called sweet wormwood or sweet Annie, the plant is the source of the chemical artemisinin, which is used in ACT therapy. The plant has been used since ancient times in Chinese medicine to treat fevers, although this bit of knowledge was lost until 1970 when the Chinese Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments (340 AD) was rediscovered. In 1971 it was found that extracts from the plant could fight malaria in primates.

The tablets made from the Artemisia annua plant
The tablets made from the Artemisia annua plant

Pamela Weathers, professor of biology and biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute began researching Artemisia annua over 25 years ago. Along with postdoctoral fellow Melissa Towler, Weathers created a pill made from nothing more than the dried and powdered leaves of the plant. When the pills were given to the 18 dying patients over the course of five days, all of them completely recovered, with no trace of the malaria parasite remaining in their blood.

"These 18 patients were dying," Weathers said. "So to see 100 percent recover, even the child who had lapsed into a coma, was just amazing. It's a small study, but the results are powerful."

Weathers had previously shown that the dried leaves of the Artemisia annua plant (DLA) could deliver 40 times more Artemisia annua to the blood than extracts of the plant alone. In a later experiment, she showed that not only could the leaves beat drug-resistant bacteria in mice, but that after passing the malaria parasite through 49 generations of mice, the parasite still showed no resistance to the plant.

While the exact mechanism through which DLA operates is unclear, Weathers says it's likely due to the intricate chemical dance that occurs between the phytochemicals in the leaves.

Weathers with the Artemisia plant
Weathers with the Artemisia plant

Because the drug is inexpensive and relatively simply to produce, Weathers also says that it could be a source of industry for people living in the areas where malaria is a problem, such as Ghana, Kenya and Malawi where it was recently announced that the first malaria vaccines will be deployed. "This simple technology can be owned, operated, and distributed by Africans for Africans," said Weathers, who has already established a supply chain on the continent for the leaves using local producers.

Weathers also said that further research into DLA could lead to effective ways to combat other maladies.

"We have done a lot of work to understand the biochemistry of these compounds, which include a number of flavonoids and terpenes, so we can better understand the role they play in the pharmacological activity of the dried leaves," Weathers said. "The more we learn, the more excited we become about the potential for DLA to be the medication of choice for combatting malaria worldwide. Artemisia annua is known to be efficacious against a range of other diseases, including other tropical maladies and certain cancers, so in our lab we are already at work investigating the effectiveness of DLA with other diseases."

The results of the case in the Congo have been described in the journal Phytomedicine. You can hear more from Weathers in the video below.

Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI Researchers Pioneer New Treatment Using Dried Artemisia annua to Cure Drug-Resistant Malaria

9 comments
KaiserPingo
The Industry will see to stop it ASAP !
NicoleKing
This is very old news. I saw a documentary about this ten years ago. As part of the search for this "elusive plant", they found it growing within a mile of the US capitol building!
smackoz
Agreed NicoleKing, this is old news which as not been popular with the pharmaceutical companies because it is so simple and effective. And yes saw the same documentary but that was at least 13 years ago in my case. Can't remember the name of the documentary though. Does anyone remember?
Grainpaw
This is another example of how a whole plant with all the phytochemicals is more effective than an extract of a few compounds. Plants evolved that way for a reason. Now we need to find a way to take the profit out of keeping people sick in order to keep selling treatments instead of cures.
Global Genius
The elephant in the rooms question is: why not simply use oral MMS (NaClO2) cost a few cents and cures in one single dose. There are tens of thousands of documented malaria cures. Not only for Malaria, but for Hep C, even cures the common cold, it is one of the few if treatments that works on virus. New Atlas how about doing an article on MMS, do a web search on it, also there are books on the subject.
Robert in Vancouver
If an anti-pharma ranter get a serious illness that can be cured by a pill, I'll bet they will buy it and be thankful a company invested billions of dollars developing and testing that drug. Any fair and rational person realizes that most new drug developments fail and the billions spent on the R & D is lost.
StevenRo1
I agree with KaiserPingo: The drug companies are probably the reason this has not been used more widely. If they can't make money off it and it competes with their useless compounds, they will kill it.
Nik
How long before 'big pharma' finds a reason to ban it, if they can, like they have St. Johns Wort in several countries, ''because it interferes with other medications,'' [but mainly their profits].
John Birk
Tell a lie and keep repeating it and soon it becomes the truth. In fact pharmaceutical companies spend 3 to 5 times on advertising than they do on research. Big Pharma keeps saying they spend billions developing new drugs, however many of these new drugs were developed in labs using taxpayer funds and then they are turned over to pharmaceutical companies for only a few thousand dollars, it was part of a republican initiative of turning government research over to industry so as to drive the economy, taxpayers paid most of the cost of research and Big Pharma thanked us bu ripping us off by charging huge markups. Educate yourself, Goggle it or read the book Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the bill by David Cay Johnson Scientia Non Domus, (Knowledge has No Home) antiguajohn