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MAGIC POTION AGAINST AIDS? Ancient Samoan drink studied for curative properties

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Ancient, homeopathic remedies practiced by primitive peoples have been examined by modern science to see if, in fact, these "magical potions" have curative properties. Scientists are now examining if a tea drank by Samoan tribes, created from tree bark can now be used AIDS patients.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - researchers have found a way to isolate the chemical, called prostratin. They are also attempting to synthesize in order to render it 100 times more potent. 

The bark of the mamala tree has previously been used by Samoan tribal healers to treat patients with hepatitis. The same technique could be used on naturally occurring drug candidates, some found in sea creatures, leading to new treatments for both cancer and Alzheimer's.

This new approach to an old potion is "fundamentally a new approach to some of the most serious unmet health challenges of our time," Dr. Paul Wender of Stanford University says.

Wender led a team which developed a process to distill prostratin from the bark of the Samoan mamala tree. Scientists quickly realized its potential as an anti-viral drug.

"We now have made synthetic variants of prostratin, called analogs, that are 100 times more potent than the natural product," Wender says. "That's part of the basis for our approach to advancing potentially transformative treatments for AIDS, Alzheimer's disease and resistant cancer."

"The mamala tree did not start making prostratin millions of years ago to treat a disease that appeared in the 20th century. The same is true for other substances that occur naturally in plants and animals. But we now have the tools to read nature's library and use the lessons learned there to design, make and study new molecules that address unmet medical needs," Wender adds.

"This 'function-oriented' approach seeks to identify useful parts of molecules and then, based on this knowledge, to design new and more readily synthesized molecules that work better or work in totally new ways.

"This is a well-validated strategy, perhaps best exemplified by the emergence of modern aviation from knowledge of how birds fly."

Latent HIV cell reservoirs have remained far out of reach by today's antiviral medicines, which reduce active virus levels in patients' blood and keep them healthy. When patients stop taking the medication, the hibernating HIV virus, kept in reservoirs awakens to resupply active virus.

Prostratin flushes out dormant HIV cells so that antiviral drugs can attack and hopefully eradicate the HIV from the body. If one wants to eliminate a weed, Wender says, one needs to get rid of its roots.

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