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Hydrangea gives allergy drug hope

Friday June 5th, 2009

A new treatment for autoimmune disorders may be on the way, derived from the root of the hydrangea plant.

The compound, halofuginone, has been found to inhibit Th17 cells - key players in autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, eczema and psoriasis.

It has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, say researchers led by Dr Mark Sundrud of the Children's Hospital Boston, USA.

Their research shows that halofuginone holds back the development of Th17 cells without any effects on the other kinds of T cells necessary for normal immune function. It also reduces the symptoms of an autoimmune disease in mice.

On the website of the journal Science, the researchers write that there are currently few good treatments for autoimmune disorders, because it is difficult to avoid suppressing healthy immune function.

Sometimes antibodies are given to neutralise immune chemicals, but these are expensive and must be given regularly via injection. Powerful immune-suppressing drugs are occasionally used, but patients are at risk of serious side-effects.

Dr Sundrud believes the new drug could offer a better alternative. He says: "This is really the first description of a small molecule that interferes with autoimmune pathology but is not a general immune suppressant."

Halofuginone works by activating the "amino acid starvation response", he explains. "In inflamed tissues, a cell with amino acid deprivation would want to block signals that promote inflammation."

It "may herald a revolution in the treatment of certain types of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases," he concludes.

Sundrud, M. et al. Science, published online June 5, 2009.

www.sciencemag.org

Tags: Allergies & Asthma | Alternative Therapy | North America | Pharmaceuticals | Rheumatology

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