Tiny worms labor to reveal engine of herbal medicines


Yuan Luo and Laura Dosanjh – worm wranglers, researchers

A team of researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)…have developed a biologic method to tease out which compounds from herbal medicines and medicinal herbal mixtures produce their reputed medicinal benefits…

Science has not been very helpful in determining the efficacy of herbal medicines in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, has so far sided with science only once to approve an herb-based treatment with multiple active ingredients-an ointment for genital warts made from green tea leaves.

Now, using tiny worms that live only 20 days, the team sorted out which compounds found in two common Chinese herbal formulations showed the most potential for their stated purpose: extending life expectancy.

Cinnamon and ginseng won, showing the most promise

The researchers tested the mixtures, as well as each separate herb in them, on the laboratory worm model C. elegans. This particular worm–which biochemists often use as their ‘lab rat’–shares genes for aging and other traits with humans and other organisms…

In recent years, scientists have learned to use C. elegans worm as a model system in for studying gene-environment interactions. In their experiments, the School of Pharmacy researchers first used “wild” C. elegans to screen the herbal mixtures and single herbs. They determined which herbs aided life span of the worms, then tested those herbs on well-characterized mutant worms. Each mutant was missing a single gene known for life span and/or stress resistance…

“The good news is that this is a way of testing to show the medicinal effect. It is now testable. We have statistical evidence for the first time in C. elegans for a multi-compound drug,” says Luo. “Most [scientists] are not using whole organisms for screening herbs. This is simple and clean, it is a system to look at specific genes. Now we have to further validate the human relevancy.”

Yes, my first smartass response is, “I don’t always consider every human to be relevant!”

Reality requires that we appreciate the work of these scientists evaluating traditional medicine. While much of the category is crap and superstition – the useful bits often are often readily available and affordable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.