Herbs to heal malaria
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, may have hit upon a way to make malaria treatment easily accessible. They have found that a combination of curcumin from turmeric (a common spice in India) and artemisinin from Artemisia annua (a Chinese herb) is highly effective against drug-resistant malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.
Currently, artemisinin is the sole option against drug-resistant malaria. Since WHO has ruled that artemisinin should be used together with other medicines to ensure that the bug does not become resistant to it, researchers have been trying to develop effective combinations. Drugs such as sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine, amodiaquine and mefloquine have been suggested. But these combinations have been hard to use because of side effects. The IISc combination is unique because both its ingredients are of natural origin.
To study the effectiveness of the herbs in vivo, mice infected with P berghi (which induces malaria in rodents) were injected with arteether, an artemisinin derivative, accompanied by an oral dose of curcumin. Curcumin was given orally for two more days. The scientists report that the combination showed 100 per cent effectiveness by curing all the mice. As only one dose of the expensive artemisinin derivative is needed instead of three, the cost of treatment is reduced to just one-third of other combinations. The findings have been published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (Vol 50, No 5, May 2006). The scientists have applied for a patent for the combination in both the US and India.
The researchers, in collaboration with the National Institute of Malaria Research, have submitted a project proposal to the department of biotechnology to carry out clinical trials on humans. Govindrajan Padmanaban, who led the team, says it would take at least two years to make the drug available in the market. "As this is an indigenous natural product, side effects are not likely. The combination would make the treatment much cheaper and if the drug is found effective in the clinical trials, it would be a win-win situation throughout,' he adds. Indian manufacturers have been contacted to develop the drug further.