A drug made from the roots of hydrangeas could treat some common diseases
A drug made from the roots of the hydrangea shrub could be used to treat a number of common diseases, researchers say.
The colourful shrub – a staple of Chinese medicine – has the power to ‘revolutionise’ the treatment of multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and some forms of diabetes and arthritis, scientists claimed yesterday.
These diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body. Existing treatments are expensive, have to be injected, and do not address the biological cause of the problem. Powerful drugs which suppress the immune system can be used as a last resort but leave patients at risk of infections and other serious side-effects.
Now it appears that a medicine derived from the hydrangea’s root could offer an alternative. Experiments found that it blocked the formation of a type of white blood cell involved in autoimmune disease.
Crucially, the drug does not seem to affect other kinds of cell vital to the body’s defences – meaning it does not otherwise inhibit the immune system. Mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease were far less severely affected when given low doses of the hydrangea-based drug, which is called halofuginone, the journal Science reported.
Dr Anjana Rao, of the Children’s Hospital in Boston in the U.S., said: ‘Halofuginone may herald a revolution in the treatment of certain types of auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.’
Hydrangea root has traditionally been used to relieve inflammation and ‘cleanse’ the joints. It is one of the 50 staple herbs of Chinese medicine and is also a traditional medicine of north American Cherokee Indians.
An extract of hydrangea leaf is also said to have anti-malarial properties.