The 2014 Ebola outbreak was the worst in history. Over 9,700 people have died and the number continues to rise. Ebola virus causes haemorrhagic fever in humans and currently has no approved therapy or vaccine. Scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio have been working in the Institute’s Biosafety Level 4 containment laboratory for more than 10 years to find a vaccine, therapies and detection methods for the virus.

Compound In Chinese Herb Beating Ebola Virus

A recent article published in Science showed that Ebola virus entry into host cells requires specific calcium channels called two-pore channels (TPCs). Disrupting TPC function by gene knockout, small interfering RNAs, or small-molecule inhibitors arrested virus trafficking and prevented infection. Tetrandrine, one of the major known ingredients extracted from the root of the Chinese herb Han Fang Ji (汉防己 or Stephaniae tetrandrae radix), resulted the most potent small molecule tested in the study, inhibiting infection of human macrophages, the primary target of Ebola virus in vivo, and also showing therapeutic efficacy in mice.

Tetrandrine, isolated from the root of Han Fang Ji, is an alkaloid and calcium channel blocker that has many pharmacological effects -including antiinflammatory, anticancer, immunosuppressive, and cytoprotective effects- and a long history in clinical applications to treat diverse diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, sepsis, endotoxin-induced uveitis, silicosis, and hypertension. In addition, numerous studies have focused on the antitumor activity of Tetrandrine, with several of them showing that it contributes to the reversal of multidrug resistance in cancer cells enhancing their radio-sensitivity.

The new study, led by Dr Robert Davey of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, focused on stopping the Ebola virus before it has a chance to enter or interact with cellular factors, as that is a critical first step to combating infection.

The virus begins its entry into a cell by first binding to several types of cell surface proteins. Then the virus is taken into the cell and follows an endosomal route, or membrane-bound route that transports the virus to various cell compartments.

From previous studies, Dr Davey and his colleagues from Germany and the United States knew that calcium signaling in cells, which allow cells to transmit electrical charges to one another, controls many of the processes in the cell and was important for Ebola virus infection.

“We were not able, however, to pinpoint the mechanisms involved in this process,” Dr Davey said.

“With this research, we discovered that two pore channels (TPCs) are the key calcium sensor involved in Ebola virus infection. These TPCs essentially need to be turned on in order for the virus to function properly.”

Their study eventually found that tetrandrine shows an ability to stop the virus before it has a chance interact with cellular factors, thus stopping the virus from continuing its infection process.

This is the first time researchers have tested its effects on the Ebola virus. And based on the results, they believe they may be using it within two to five years to stop the spread of this global health threat … just not naturally. The scientists want to create a drug that mimics natural tetrandrine. They can’t write a prescription for Han Fang Ji. It doesn’t surprise me that the pharmaceutical industry wants to cash in on its power.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the whole root of Han Fang Ji is used in herbal combinations o formulas to treat similar diseases. In terms of Chinese Medicine, Han Fang Ji has cold nature and is able to eliminate damp-heat, increase urination and relax the tendons and muscles. It can be used to treat painful syndrome due to damp-heat in the Middle-Jiao when burning, heavy and painful sensations of muscles are present. In terms of western medicine this means edema, especially in the lower parts of the body, gurgling sounds in the intestines, abdominal distention and painful swollen joint conditions with redness, inflammation and fever.

In combination with other herbs, it is the chief herb in the classical Chinese formula Xuan Bi Tang (“Disband painful obstruction decoction”) described for the first time at the Chinese classical book Wen Bing Tiao Bian (“Systematic differentiation of warm pathogen diseases”). This formula, that contains a total of nine Chinese herbs, is able to clear heat and transform dampness, reduce pain and treat damp-heat Bi syndrome. The manifestations are swollen joints, a gray or yellow sticky tongue coating, and a soft and rapid pulse.

Ebola is an acute-onset disease, with immediate symptoms that can include joint pain, fever, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, sore throat, and vomiting, according to the National Institutes of Health. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms appear: bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, rectum, and internal bleeding may occur. Depression, swollen eyes and genitals, painful skin, a red, inflamed roof of the mouth, and a hemorrhagic rash over the entire body characterize the most devastating symptoms.

Although some of the initial symptoms such as red painful joints could be relieved by a formula as Xuan Bi Tang, this formula focuses in eliminating damp-heat pathogens obstructing the channels, a condition that Traditional Chinese Medicine describes as “damp-warmth”. Given its association with dampness –dampness likes to linger in our bodies–, damp-warmth progresses slowly. As Ebola progression is fast, with similar symptoms described in Chinese Medicine as “wind-warmth” –caused by “wind-heat” pathogens– a more appropriate Chinese formula to dispel heat should be prescribed, specially if bleeding is present.

Two of these formulas are Qing Ying Tang (Clear the nutritive level decoction) that clears heat from the nutritive level, and Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang (Rhinoceros horn and Rehmannia decoction) used when bleeding is present. As Xuan Bi Tang, both formulas were described in the book Wen Bing Tiao Bian, published in 1798 by Wu Tang, a major contributor of Wen Bing Xue or the School of Warm Diseases. Wen Bing Xue was the study of externally contracted warm diseases and their treatments, which flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties and made possible the treatment and prevention of many acute epidemic and infectious diseases in the Ming and Qing era.

Unfortunately, no modern research studies are available on the study of these classical herbal combinations and infectious diseases like Ebola. While modern research is progressing and efforts are made to find effective molecules extracted from medicinal herbs, it would be also worth studying traditional herbal formulas and the effect of whole herbs, not only for Ebola, but also for other infectious diseases.

Compound In Chinese Herb Beating Ebola Virus
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