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N-E shrub could offer malaria cure

A plant found in the North-East could offer the most effective cure against malaria, which claims hundreds of lives every year.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 05, 2009 00:40 IST
Prasad Nichenametla

A plant found in the North-East could offer the most effective cure against malaria, which claims hundreds of lives every year.

Though drugs such as chloroquin and artemisin are in use, plasmodium — transmitted through anopheles mosquito bite — has been found to be developing resistance against these medicines.

Gommostoma, a shrub found in the hills of N-E, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh, could offer third generation drug against malaria. Scientists at the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), Tezpur in Assam have identified a molecule from the shrub which is effective even against the drug-resistant plasmodium.

“Our tests have proved that the molecule is effective against both vivax and falciparum types of plasmodium. The scientists from Indian Institute of Science have confirmed its efficacy,” Dr W. Selvamurthy, chief controller, research and development, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), told HT on the sidelines of the Indian Science Congress here.

The molecule has been sent to the Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) in Gwalior for further tests, he said.

Discovered around six months ago, the molecule is yet to get a name. For now, scientists refer to it as gommostome, after the plant it is extracted from.

After the tests at DRDE, clinical trials would begin. It would be some years before the trials are completed and a drug formed, Selvamurthy said. The molecule would be clinically strengthened during the process. Initial tests on albino rats found that it provided total cure, the DRL said.

Apart from medicinal value, the plant could turn a money-spinner for locals. “Once the drug is developed, there would be demand for the plant,” Dr R.B. Srivastava, director, DRL-Tezpur, said.

DRL scientists are also trying to decode the molecule’s chemical structure to develop a chemical analog for bulk use. “We initiated the research as North-East is vulnerable to malaria and security forces, too, fall prey to it. But once the drug is ready, it’ll benefit everyone,” he said.