News / Africa

Drug Sought from African Tree

São Tomé e Príncipe Sum Pontes and San Verónica healers collect the V. africana plant for their patients. In assays, the plant showed to be potent in reducing inflammation, oxidative stress and amyloid-beta peptides (typically associated with Alzheimer’s
São Tomé e Príncipe Sum Pontes and San Verónica healers collect the V. africana plant for their patients. In assays, the plant showed to be potent in reducing inflammation, oxidative stress and amyloid-beta peptides (typically associated with Alzheimer’s

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua

Scientists are looking at traditional African medicine for possible treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is analyzing the leaves and bark of a tree that grows on an island nation off the coast of West Africa.  

Listen to De Capua report on medicinal African tree
Listen to De Capua report on medicinal African treei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

On São Tomé and Príncipe, traditional healers have used the Voacanga africana tree for hundreds of years. It’s a small tree that produces yellow or white flowers that turn into berries with seeds. The seeds and bark have been used as a poison, aphrodisiac and a psychedelic. But traditional healers knew it somehow affected those believed to have brain disorders.

Pamela Maher, senior staff scientist at the Salk Institute’s Cellular Neurobiology Lab, said, “We have developed over the years a variety of -- what are called – phenotypic assays that mimic different aspects of what goes wrong in the aging brain. And we have thought for a number of years that plants that have been used in traditional medicines might offer a new source of potential therapeutic compounds for neurodegenerative diseases.”

These include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, as well as degeneration that occurs following a stroke. It’s estimated as many as five-million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, which causes a half-million deaths each year.

“Right now there really are no good treatments for any neurodegenerative disease. And so we thought that by combining our phenotypic assays that can screen for potentially therapeutic compounds with new potential sources of therapeutic compounds might be a wonderful combination.” said Maher.

Serendipity caused researchers to focus on the Voacanga africa tree. While visiting his family in Portugal, Maher’s associate, Antonio Currais, met Maria do Madureira, a researcher studying herbal medicine on São Tomé and Príncipe for many years. They developed tests to find medicinal properties in plants.

Maher said, “We were focusing on plant extracts that were used in traditional medicine, either specifically for brain disorders or were known to have anti-inflammatory activity. And it’s now known a lot of neurological diseases – or almost all of them – involve some degree of inflammation.”

The researchers found that the anti-inflammatory properties of the tree extracts were mostly due to one molecule called voacamine. No tests have been done on animals yet. But this is the molecule that potentially could lead to a synthetic drug for brain illnesses.

“It was much more potent than we had expected something to be. So this showed that our approach for identifying these types of compounds works,” she said.

Maher added that there are many potential sources of drugs in native plants around the world. Most of them have never been tested. She said since you cannot test every plant, the best approach is to “use the knowledge that’s been around for thousands of years to help pick and choose what to study.” 

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs