Harvard School of Dental Medicine has discovered the secret behind an herb used in Chinese herbal medicine. The herb commonly known as Chang Shan, is a type of hydrangea with a bioactive ingredient that can treat autoimmune disorders. This is not the first time a Chinese herb has been found to have chemical constituents with significant health benefits. Most drugs today have their origins in phyto or plant chemicals.
Chinese medicine has been using plants, insects, fish and shell fish for more than 2,000 years to treat mankind’s illnesses. Learning the secrets behind the power of these herbs is still an emerging field and scientists are continually learning how various herbal compounds in plants block or stimulate pathways in the body, triggering other reactions.
In this case, the hydrangea plant contains halofuginone (HF) a compound which blocks the development of a harmful class of immune cells called TH17 cells. These cells have many implications in autoimmune disorders.
“HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether,” said Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the new study. “This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine is proving more amazing everyday.
This study involved an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Harvard-affiliated and Massachuetts General Hospital and published in Nature Chemical Biology, Febuary 2012.
Prior research had shown that HF reduced scarring in tissue, scleroderma (a tightening of the skin), multiple sclerosis, scar formation, and even cancer progression. “We thought HF must work on a signaling pathway that had many downstream effects,” said Keller.
Recognized only since 2006, Th17 cells are “bad actors,” implicated in many autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis (MS), and psoriasis. The researchers found that minute doses of HF reduced multiple sclerosis in a mouse model. As such, it was one of a new arsenal of drugs that selectively inhibits autoimmune pathology without suppressing the immune system globally.
This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University.