Medicinal plants such as tulsi, ashwgandha and shilajit, which have so far been used as home remedies for cough and cold, may hold the key to the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The Department of Virology in Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing in Parel, conducted in-vitro tests (tests done outside living systems) on the herbal extracts of the three plants against Reverse Transcriptase, an enzyme that is found in the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and causes it to multiply.
The tests showed that these herbs have the potential to act effectively against the enzyme.
“We wanted to know whether these herbal plants have any anti-HIV activity and if they can inactivate the virus or at least prevent it from replicating, or modulate the body’s immunity,” said Dr Sweta Kothari, senior scientific officer, Department of Virology, Haffkine Institute.
The study began in 2006 with the three herbal extracts being tested against Reverse Transcriptase. Simultaneously, a drug named azidothymidine (AZT), which is used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, was also tested.
Results of this comparative study showed that tulsi and shilajit gave better results than that of AZT drug on the enzyme. “When AZT was 70% effective in blocking the enzyme activity, tulsi and shilajit showed 80% to 90% activity,” said Kothari.
Now that the herbal extracts of these plants have shown positive results, the institute is planning to take the research to the next level.
“We will work on finding the exact molecules in those herbal extracts which are acting against the virus. This can
also help in evaluating other herbal plants which have similar active molecules,” said Ritwik Dahake, scientific officer, Department of Virology, Haffkine Institute.
“We know a large number of herbal preparations which are used in traditional Indian system of medicine, however, they must be analysed and evaluated in the light of the mechanism of their action and specific site of action.
“We are planning to have a mechanism-based screening of medicinal plants which are used in treatment of various infectious and other ailments,” said Dr Abhay Chowdhary, director, Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing. “The institute is also trying to study the green ways of controlling various insects.”