An article from the Australian Business Insider that has been making the rounds on the internet this week reports on a new series of trials for a drug that utilizes an active ingredient, tetrandrine, found in the Chinese Medical Herb Han Fang Ji that was found to be effective in stopping the ebola virus from infecting cells in mice. The article tells how a team of US and German scientists were able to demonstrate that tetrandine stopped viral replication of the ebola virus and apparently showed no side effects. The research team is hoping to start primate trials in the near future. The research originally appeared in the weekly journal Science.
Chinese Herbal Medicine has a long history of treating infectious disease and Ebola may end up being another instance were Chinese herbs were able to save lives. Infectious disease is often described in Chinese Medicine as a form of heat or cold entering the body usually accompanied by wind. Wind in Chinese medicine does not mean the actual wind of the weather, but is used to describe symptoms and phenomena that enter the body from the outside, or when symptoms move around the body and are not fixed. Wind will often combine with the other external pathogens of Heat, Cold, Dryness, or Dampness and invade the body causing illness. There are two Chinese Medicine theories of disease progression and transmission that were developed and written hundreds of years ago in response to infectious disease and they both changed the way that medicine was practiced then and are still in use today. The scholar and doctor Zhang Zhong Jing developed and wrote the Theory of Cold Disease after many of his family members died during an infectious epidemic and was actually the first time that differential diagnosis was used and formulas were systematized. Much Later, the Dr. Ye Tian Shi developed and wrote the Discussion of Warm diseases to deal with the spread of epidemic diseases that were different in nature from those discussed in the Theory of Cold Disease. These two systems are still used today when dealing with acute infectious disease and their applications are wide spread from colds and flus to malarial diseases as well as disease epidemics similar to ebola with high fevers and bleeding from the orifices.
The herb in question, Han Fang Ji, or Stephanie tetrandrae Radix is used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine mainly for dispersing edema especially of the lower legs and treating hot swollen and painful joints, again mostly in the lower legs. The herbs actions are said to clear damp heat and facilitate water metabolism and treating painful obstruction, which can be associated with arthritis or chronic joint pains from a western perspective.
The Ebola virus would probably be classified as an extreme wind heat invasion progressing to heat or fire in the blood, this usually would manifest as high fever, extreme thirst, profuse sweating, scanty dark urination, sores or rashes and eventually bleeding. Given the herbs qualities, it makes sense that Han Fang Ji could be used in this way, but interestingly the researchers are only using the isolated component tetrandrae in their trials.
Plant medicine has a huge potential for helping people around the world, whole herbs or their isolated components have amazing properties and are often used for the basis for new drugs developed in the western world. Whole herb medicine however can offer more in terms of customization for the patient, as well as a huge amount of component molecules and compounds that can enhance the effects of active ingredients as well as self-regulating components that can limit any potential side effects. Regardless, the research being done here will hopefully save lives and potentially open up more research into the applications of Chinese Herbal Medicine.
The original article can be found here.