Is the Search Finally Over? Tribal Community May Hold the Answer to AIDS Cure

Published: 09th March 2016 04:38 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th March 2016 06:15 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: A path-breaking research is under-way to find a cure for AIDS/HIV and the basis for the research is the traditional knowledge shared by the tribal community living inside the core area of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve forest (Rajiv Gandhi National Reserve Forest) in Karnataka.

A city-based researcher K Saravanan claims that a few medicinal plants found in Nagarhole possibly have anti-HIV properties. The biochemical molecules sourced from these select medicinal plants would probably hold the secret for countering life-threatening human immunodeficiency virus.

Saravanan told Express that according to tribal testimonies, they have been using extracts from these medicinal plants for generations to cure various viruses, including sexually transmitted diseases. “It is a fact that polygamy and illicit relationships are rampant in tribal communities, which attracts HIV like virus, though the disease has officially come into existence only some three decades back. These medicinal plants are historically being used by them as immunomodulators to fight various deadly viruses, which are still integral part of their traditional medicine.”

He said taking permission from the Karnataka Forest Department to gain access into the national park and convincing the tribals to speak on the subject took close to 18 months. “My guide Dr S Elumalai, head, Department of Biotechnology, University of Madras, and I have visited six tribal hamlets so far. Our preliminary investigation showed positive results,” he said.

Dr Elumalai said National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), which is under Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare, has been approached to fund the research project. “We have already identified the plants, collected samples and analysed the biochemical molecules available. The Sophisticated Analytical Instrument Facility (SAIF) of IIT Madras is assisting us. It would be a world breakthrough, if we succeed in identifying the molecules that are anti-HIV.”

All across the world, various medicinal plants or plant-derived natural products have shown strong anti-HIV activity and are under various stages of clinical development. However, this is the first time there is clear evidence of people using specific plants for generations to defeat viruses similar to HIV, Dr Elumalai said and added that they would be shortly conducting trials on human cell lines and animal models with the relevant permission from the authorities.

A couple of years ago, a few researchers from the National Centre for Cell Sciences have published an article in Journal of Natural Medicines highlighting that traditional medicinal plants are a valuable source of novel anti-HIV agents and may offer alternatives to expensive medicines in future. They claimed that various Indian medicinal plants show strong anti-HIV activity. They prepared 92 extracts from 23 plants. Anti-HIV activity was measured in a human CD4+ T-cell line, CEM-GFP cells infected with HIV-1NL4.3. Nine extracts of eight different plants significantly reduced viral production in CEM-GFP cells infected with HIV-1NL4.3. Plants like Aegle marmelos, Argemone mexicana, Asparagus racemosus, Coleus forskohlii, and Rubia cordifolia demonstrated promising anti-HIV potential and were investigated for their active principles.

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