What's the buzz...

What's the buzz...

Plants to fight drug-resistant malaria

Israeli scientists have developed genetically altered tobacco plants, which contain a natural compound that can fight drug-resistant malaria.

Although cigarettes are known to kill millions of people every year, Professor Alexander Vainstein and his research team at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found that tobacco plant can be altered to produce “artemisin,” an active component in malaria treatment, according to Israel’s 21C news site.

The natural compound artemisin comes from the sweet wormwood plant and can fight drug-resistant malaria, but due to its small quantities and high price, millions of people cannot get access to this remedy. However, Vainstein and his colleagues spliced the wormwood enzymes that produce artemisin and bred tobacco plants that carry artemisin’s genetical code, English.news.cn. reported.

Vainstein’s development is being marketed through the Hebrew University’s Yissum Research Development Company.

“The technology provides, for the first time, the opportunity for manufacturing affordable artemisin by using tobacco plants,” said Yissum CEO Yaacov Michlin.

“We hope that this invention will eventually help control (malaria), for the benefit of many millions of people around the globe, and in particular in the developing world,” Michlin added.

Juvenile arthritis quadruples cancer risk in kids

Children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) are four times likelier to have cancer than those without the disease, researchers have revealed.

The findings suggest JIA treatment, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, does not necessarily explain the development of cancer in this pediatric population.
Children with JIA experience symptoms similar to adults with arthritis including joint pain, swelling, tenderness and stiffness.

JIA is a general term used to describe the various chronic arthritis diseases in children.
One of the drug types used to treat childhood and adult arthritis, along with a number of other rheumatic conditions, is TNF inhibitors.

Studies have reported that more than 600,000 people worldwide have received anti-TNF therapy since their introduction 15 years ago. However, possible cancer risk has been associated with treatment, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to place “black box” warnings of the potential malignancy risk on TNF inhibitors labels.

Secrets of ancient Chinese herbal remedy discovered

Chinese herbalists have been using a root extract, commonly known as Chang Shan, from a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepal, to treat Malaria for roughly two thousand years.

Experts in more recent studies have suggested that halofuginone, a compound derived from this extract’s bioactive ingredient, could be used to treat many autoimmune disorders as well.

Now, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine have discovered the molecular secrets behind this herbal extract’s power.

It turns out that halofuginone (HF) triggers a stress-response pathway that blocks the development of a harmful class of immune cells, called Th17 cells, which have been implicated in many autoimmune disorders.

“HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether. This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders,” said Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and senior author on the new study.

Tracy Keller, an instructor in Whitman’s lab and the first author on the study added, “This study is an exciting example of how solving the molecular mechanism of traditional herbal medicine can lead both to new insights into physiological regulation and to novel approaches to the treatment of disease,”

This study involved an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere.

For the current study, the researchers investigated how HF activates the amino acid response pathway, or AAR, looking at the most basic process that cells use to translate a gene’s DNA code into the amino acid chain that makes up a protein.

The researchers were able to home in on a single amino acid, called proline, and discovered that HF targeted and inhibited a particular enzyme (tRNA synthetase EPRS) responsible for incorporating proline into proteins that normally contain it. When this occurred, the AAR response kicked in and produced the therapeutic effects of HF-treatment.