Herb from Taita Taveta, Kenya may hold key to HIV cure – scientists

Scientists from Kenya, the US, and Hungary, say compounds found in a local euphorbia species may hold the key to HIV cure.

The team has tested extracts from Euphorbia usambarica herb, harvested from Taita Taveta in Kenya, and reports it highly effective in eliminating latent HIV.

The biggest obstacle to curing HIV are latent or sleeper viruses that manage to hide from the immune system and antiretroviral drugs.

These viruses essentially lie in wait but remain capable of reactivation especially if treatment is interrupted. This is partially why infected persons take medication for life.

But the new findings suggest euphorbia compounds can smoke out these viruses exposing them for elimination.

The current study published early this month (7th July 2021) in the journal Pharmaceuticals reports extracts from the herb were able to wake and expose the hiding viruses.

This process called HIV latency reversal, the study says is key in the cure and eradication of the virus from the body; something current drugs are unable to achieve.

“We found that natural constituents from the Euphorbia usambarica have the potential to contribute to the development of HIV-1 eradication strategies,” says the study.

There are over 7,500 species of euphorbia, also called spurge but this particular type Euphorbia usambarica mainly grows in Kenya and Tanzania.

The particular tested sample in this study had been stored at the University of Szeged, Hungary, from specimen collected in Taita Taveta at Kenya’s coastal region.

The University of Szeged and the University of Utah, US, were the major players in the study, with Peter Waweru Mwangi a lecturer at the University of Nairobi identifying the specimen.

Thirty-one active compounds were extracted from the dried stem and root of the specimen, purified, and tested against HIV.

Six of those compounds, the study says had demonstrated high HIV anti-latency activity.

“Our results suggest that isolated compounds from E. usambarica can be developed into therapeutic strategies for HIV-1 management, particularly for reactivating latent HIV.”

Traditionally the plant has been used in East Africa for treatment against gonorrhea and illnesses affecting the urinary and hormonal systems.

Earlier studies, the team says had suggested the plant’s ability to reactivate latent HIV but currently, they managed to identify and purify the actual active compounds.

These compounds including 15 unidentified before, the team say may be key to creating an HIV cure.

Many Kenya’s may know one or the other species of euphorbia because some are quite common especially the one containing a thick milky sap and used for hedges.

The Boran call it omo; utudi by the Digo, finger uphorbia in English, ndau by the Kamba, kariaria by the Kikuyu, shikhoni by the Luhya, ojuok by the Luo, oloile by the Maasai and mtupa mwitu in Swahili.

However, it is important to note these names may not refer specifically to E. usambarica but maybe to its many relatives.

By Gatonye Gathura

The study is available here: https://doi.org/10.3390/ph14070653

About Gatonye Gathura 125 Articles
Science Journalist

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