Tag Archives: pharma

An analgesic molecule discovered in its natural state in Africa

Nauclea latifolia (also know as the pin cushion tree) is a small shrub, relatively common, used in traditional medicine throughout the sub-Saharan regions. Of course, African traditional medicine is not often your first choice when it comes to a treatment, but what if I told you that this plant produces large quantities of molecules – identical to those found in one of the most popular analgesics – Tramadol ?

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A team of researchers led by Michel De Waard, Inserm Research Director at the Grenoble Institute of Neurosciences studied the plant and showed that the molecules are identical to Tramadol, a wholly synthetic medication that is used world-wide as a painkiller. This is the first time ever that a synthetic drug chemically produced by the pharmaceutical industry has been found in significant concentrations in nature. Tramadol is used to treat different disorders, including epilepsy, fevers, malaria, insomnia, or simply pain.

The plant was used more or less for the same things in the area, especially in Cameroon. Without even suspecting what they would find, researchers set out to isolate the analgesic compounds in the plant’s bark, and much to their surprise, they found that this component was already commercially available.

Credit: The structure of Tramadol, compared to morphine.

Credit: The structure of Tramadol, compared to morphine.

“It was identical to Tramadol, a synthetic medication developed in the seventies and often used to treat pain”, explained Michel De Waard, Inserm research director. “This medication is used world-wide, because although it is a derivative of morphine, it has less side effects than morphine, in particular addiction problems.”

In order to confirm their results and eliminate any possible error, scientists then set out to test it in a lab environment – their results were confirmed by 3 independent laboratories.

“All results converge and confirm the presence of Tramadol in the root bark of Nauclea latifolia. On the other hand, no trace of this molecule was detected in the aerial part of the shrub (leaves, trunk or branches)“, explained the researcher.

Finally, to eliminate any other risk of possible outside contamination with the drug, they also analyzed the plant’s roots, thus confirming what was already clear. Dried bark extracts contain between 0.4% and 3.9% Tramadol – extremely high levels of the substance.

This research opens up a big door for potentially cheap (or even free) treatment, while also validating the concepts of traditional medicines (as decoctions made from barks and roots).

 

Via Inserm.

Low level of antibiotics cause drug resistance in ‘superbugs’

For years and years (good) doctors have warned about the dangers of taking antibiotics too lightly, which generally causes ‘bugs’ to be more resistant. More recently, a study conducted by researchers from Boston University showed that microbes are a lot like us: what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger, and this could have extreme consequences. Here’s what it’s about.

You’re sick, you go to the doctor, he gives you a prescription. You start taking it, after a couple of days feel all better, and stop taking it. The result is likely a strain of bacteria (or virus) that will be resistant to a whole number of drugs. The same thing could happen if you’re sick and instead of going to the doctor just take those pills you’ve got, and avoid going to the doctor alltogether.

superbugBasically, when administered in lethal levels, antibiotics trigger a fatal chain reaction within the bacteria that shreds the cell’s DNA. However, when the level is less than the lethal one, the results are not only the survival of the bacteria and the further resistance to this drug, but also to a whole series of other ones too.

“In effect, what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger,” said Collins, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “These findings drive home the need for tighter regulations on the use of antibiotics, especially in agriculture; for doctors to be more disciplined in their prescription of antibiotics; and for patients to be more disciplined in following their prescriptions.”

“We know free radicals damage DNA, and when that happens, DNA repair systems get called into play that are known to introduce mistakes, or mutations,” said Collins. “We arrived at the hypothesis that sub-lethal levels of antibiotics could bump up the mutation rate via the production of free radicals, and lead to the dramatic emergence of multi-drug resistance. The sub-lethal levels dramatically drove up the mutation levels, and produced a wide array of mutations,” Collins observed. “Because you’re not killing with the antibiotics, you’re allowing many different types of mutants to survive. We discovered that in this zoo of mutants, you can actually have a mutant that could be killed by the antibiotic that produced the mutation but, as a result of its mutation, be resistant to other antibiotics.”

Of pain and marijuana

The sun begins to ooze off outside of Birmingham, England. It’s tea time. A woman stands alone in her house, making herself a nice warm cup. After the tea is done, she stirs a half spoon cannabis in her tea, in an attempt to seek relief from pain and spasms caused by her multiple sclerosis. This desperate attempt to get rid of the chronic pain for just a few hours is, in the eyes of British justice, a crime.

She realizes what she’s doing; doesn’t take the drug lightly, or for recreational purposes. She’s also aware that it could get her prosecuted, and yet she still refuses to take the daily 13 pills she’s been prescribed, and instead chooses to use cannabis, which gives her 3 hours of relief. In case you don’t know, multiple sclerosis is one of the worst diseases you can have. It’s basically a degenerative disease of the central nervous system, with symptoms including pain, paralysis, loss of balance, etc.

“When I wake up in the morning my knees, my ankles, I have all these muscles pull my leg to the left so I find it hard to walk straight,” she said. “With cannabis these symptoms recede to a point where I can walk OK-ish. I want politicians to be nice to me… I’m sick.”[..] “I just don’t want to take the route of taking 13 pills a day when I can just use one medicine – cannabis – and I feel fantastic using it,” she said.
“I’d rather take the risk of breaking the law than go through that.”

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So why doesn’t she just take the pills ? Well, first of all they have a sum of negative side effects that include high blood pressure, ulcers and even the risk of heart failure and psychosis. They also just don’t work sometimes, or require an increase of dosage at regular intervals. I don’t know, but I’m guessing they’re also very expensive. As for cannabis, well, the risk of negative side effects is almost neglectable. You can literally grow it yourself, and it’s accepted (even recommended) by more and more countries in medical situations. The medical uses of marijuana are numerous, including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, and cancer. It greatly reduces pain and nausea, spasms, depression and sleeping disorders, and patients who used it reported a significant increase in the general quality of life.

To my knowledge, this is the only natural plant that’s illegal. The real irony here is that just by watching TV for a couple of hours you’re bombarded with commercials for powerful medications with numerous possible side effects, but they’re perfectly legal; even more than that – they’re recommended.

Via BBC, who I’d like to thank

Devil’s Claw brings new hope for arthritis

devilsclaw03webDeep in one of the warmest places on the planet, in the Kalahari desert, there lies the ‘Devil’s Claw’, a plant that may hold the key to effective treatment to arthritis, tendonitis and numerous related illnesses that affect millions and millions each year. Despite being a ‘desert plant’ the Devil’s Claw doesn’t thrive in extreme drough, like the one the Kalahari desert has seen in the past few years. This lead the plant to the brink of extinction so scientists are trying to find out ways to grow it, or grow other plants that produce the same valuable chemicals, or produce the chemicals in a lab.

Today was the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). At that meeting, they described the first successful method of producing the active ingredients in the plant, ingredients that have already made the Devil’s Claw sought after by more and more people who use it as alternative medicine – with amazing results. Researchers hope this will eventually lead to ‘biofactories’ that could produce huge quantities of the needed substances at low costs.

They started studying this plant when they found out that native populations from South Africa have been using it for generations in a number of conditions, from fever and diarrhea to serious blood diseases.

“In Germany, 57 pharmaceutical products based on Devil’s claw, marketed by 46 different companies, have cumulative sales volumes alone worth more than $40 million.”, said Milen I. Georgiev, Ph.D., who delivered the report

“The Devil’s Claw faces significant problems with its natural renewal, especially low rainfall,” Georgiev notes. “These problems are driving efforts to find alternative ways to produce high value compounds from the plant, independent of geographical and climatic factors,” he says.

Another extremely interesting fact (though not directly related) is that 25 percent of ALL medicines prescribed in industrialized countries comes from plants, most of which are endangered, so these biofactories that could ensure fast growth rate and genetic stability for the necessary plants could be crucial.

“Our target aim is to develop such technology, so we are paying attention not only to fundamental scientific tasks, but also to those related to some of the technological problems associated with hairy root biofactories,” Georgiev said. “It is the desire of each scientist is to see the fruits of his work. In the current case, we hope to be able to develop cost-effective laboratory technology for production of these pharmaceutically-important metabolites within the next five years.”