Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis studying medicinal plants from the Peruvian rainforests have come across results that may significantly influence the direction of the fight against tuberculosis (TB) worldwide. Walter H. Lewis, Ph.D., professor of biology at Washington University, and his colleagues examined about 1,250 plant extracts returned from Peru and found that 46 percent showed an inhibition against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis), the bacterium that causes TB.
The finding is a first step toward developing potential drugs that can combat the disease.
The unexpected results came after months of working in conjunction with the native Aguaruna people of Peru through the International Cooperative Biodiversity Program-Peru, or ICBG-Peru, whose primary goals are to identify new pharmaceutical possibilities from medicinal plants and to promote cultural and economic support to the native Indians. Lewis and his team lived among the tribe, collecting plant samples and learning about specific plants the Indians use in herbal medicinal practices.
Upon subsequent testing and analysis of the collected plants in St. Louis in collaboration with Dr. Scott Franzblau at the Federal Hansen Laboratory at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Lewis was intrigued by the results.
"Here's the surprise: We would expect that in targeted medicinal plants - plants being used by indigenous people to treat a specific disease - that we would find approximately 50 percent or higher activity. But we would never have anticipated 46 percent activity from a general survey of plants selected as medicinals not used to treat TB," Lewis explains.
Through the technique of bio-directed assaying, Lewis and his fellow researchers identified the amount of reactivity present in each of the samples against various diseases- including diarrhea, leishmania, and certain strains of cancer- but the inhibitions against these paled in comparison
Contact: Brian Schnall
Washington University in St. Louis