The mysterious Aloe vera has been a source for healing since Old Testament times, and a Texas A&M University researcher is trying to uncover just what the substances are in the plant that work wonders and how they do it so that more might be learned about treating wounds.
Dr. Ian Tizard, a professor of immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, is studying a special polysaccharide, the substance that forms along cell walls of the Aloe vera, to see how it performs its healing tricks.
The Aloe vera is native to North Africa but now can be found almost worldwide, Tizard says. A succulent, it thrives in warm and dry climates very much like cactus does.
But unlike its prickly cactus cousin, Aloe vera is in a class by itself when it comes to certain healing properties.
There are more than 100 species of aloe, but Tizard says Aloe vera is the one that has drawn the most scientific interest.
"When Aloe vera is placed on many types of wounds, such as bedsores, it can often heal the wound quickly, and the likely reason why is the special polysaccharide in it," Tizard explains.
"Many plants contain this polysaccharide, but the kind found in Aloe vera works differently, we've learned. It seems to bind growth factors in wounds whereas normally they would be destroyed. Aloe vera polysaccharide seems to speed along the healing process much quicker.
"How it does this, that's what we're trying to find out."
Aloe vera (aloe is an Arabic word for a bitter substance, vera is Latin for truth) has long, pointed leaves consisting of green rind and clear pulp. The pulp is the part of the plant that has the healing agents in it.