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'Sunflower harbours HIV cure hopes'

Sunflowers produce a substance which prevents the AIDS pathogen HIV from multiplying, at least in cell cultures.

health and fitness Updated: Jan 11, 2006 18:07 IST
Asian News International
Asian News International

Sunflowers could hold the key to finding a cheaper cure for AIDS, as they produce a substance which prevents the AIDS pathogen HIV from multiplying, at least in cell cultures.

This is the result of research carried out by scientists at the University of Bonn in cooperation with the Caesar research centre.

For several years now the hopes for a completely new group of AIDS drugs have been pinned to what is known as 'DCQA'. However, the substance is only available in very small quantities and is thus extremely expensive. By using the Bonn method it could probably be produced for a fraction of the costs.

Agricultural engineer Claudio Cerboncini found that Sunflowers produce anti-bodies to fight a certain kind of fungus, and isolated the antitoxins which the plants produced in response to the fungus. He discovered that the plant also produces dicaffeoyl quinic acid, or DCQA, the highly prized prototype for a new group of AIDS drugs.

'Dicaffeoyl quinic acid can prevent the HI virus from reproducing, at least in cell cultures. 'It is one of the few substances known today which inhibit viral integrase - this is an enzyme which is essential if the pathogen is to reproduce.' In contrast to other enzymes medical experts expect there to be only a few side-effects from such integrase inhibitors," he was quoted as saying.

"We need these substances to expand our arsenal of effective weapons against the disease. It remains to be seen, however, whether they will prove to be as effective in clinical practice as they seem to be at present". Dr. Esther Vogt of the Immunological Out-Patient Service of Bonn University Clinic added

DCQA occurs in the artichoke and wild chicory, though in extremely small doses. The market price is therefore currently 1,000 per milligram. '

This knowledge would make mass production of DCQA a distinct possibility. Even now chemists can 'copy' the substance, albeit only with great difficulty.

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 21:31 IST