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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid