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   Apr 18

The life-saving flowers in your garden being used by drug companies

Pharmaceutical firms often turn flowers into drugs or copy their chemicals

Peonies could treat arthritic knees as they contain a chemical called paeonol

Crocuses could be part of an anti-cancer ‘smart bomb’ with chemical colchicine

Flowers and plants are a wonderful source of life-saving medicines. But it’s not only those that grow in exotic or remote parts of the globe providing the potential cures.

Many promising new drugs and remedies are based on extracts from flowers growing in our own back gardens.

‘I think most people would be surprised at the extent to which flowers they are familiar with are used in medicine,’ says Guy Barter, chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society.

‘Many have been turned into commercial drugs by pharmaceutical firms that have extracted or copied chemicals they contain.’

As spring blooms are filling Britain’s gardens, Good Health looks at the secret resources you could find in your flowerbed.


Could treat: Arthritic knees

Peonies contain a chemical called paeonol that could ease arthritic knees. The chemical slows down the destruction of the cartilage, according to researchers at Liverpool University

From spring to early summer, white, pink and red peonies bloom all over the UK.

But most gardeners will be unaware they contain a chemical — paeonol — that could revolutionise arthritis treatments.

Scientists at Liverpool University recently discovered that paeonol eases joint pain and slows down the destruction of cartilage — the shock absorber designed to protect joints.

There is no drug to treat this and, as a result, around 60,000 of the eight million people in the UK with osteoarthritis undergo knee replacement surgery each year. But animal tests suggest the peony-based drug, known as APPA, could slow the deterioration of cartilage.

It does this by blocking white blood cells called neutrophils, which are released by the immune system to fight off infection, but can also be inappropriately activated in those with osteoarthritis, leading to inflammation.

The drug works by blocking neutrophils’ inflammatory effects on tissue inside knees, but without stopping their release, which is vital to protect the body against invading organisms.

‘This drug has huge potential to provide an effective treatment,’ says Professor Robert Moots, a consultant rheumatologist involved in the research.

He hopes clinical trials will start later this year.


Could treat: Cancer

Crocus bulbs contain a chemical called colchicine, which is in an anti-cancer ‘smart bomb’ being developed by Bradford University. It could wipe out the blood vessels feeding the tumour

Scientists at Bradford University are developing an anti-cancer ‘smart bomb’ which could potentially treat a range of solid tumours.

The key is a chemical called colchicine, which occurs naturally in crocus bulbs.

It’s poisonous if used in its natural state, so scientists have developed an inactive form that is switched on only once it comes into contact with a protein released by cancer cells.

The idea is that the drug, code-named ICT2588, destroys cancerous cells by using the poison to wipe out the blood vessels feeding the tumour.

Importantly, it does this without also destroying healthy cells — overcoming a main problem with chemotherapy drugs.

In tests on mice, some tumours disappeared completely and did not return.

The world’s first human trial is underway, involving patients with advanced cancer of the breast, lungs, bowel and prostate.


Could treat: Rheumatoid arthritis

Hydrangea roots contain a molecule called halofuginone, which could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritits, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It can block the production of the amino acids needed to power the cells

Scientists at Harvard Medical School in Boston, U.S., have spent the last couple of years experimenting with a drug made from the root of the hydrangea, one of the UK’s most popular garden plants.

The root contains a molecule called halofuginone, which could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. These conditions are thought to be triggered by the immune system going haywire, attacking healthy cells, tissues and organs.

In animal tests, the scientists found that halofuginone stopped the release of an immune system cell called Th17, which is one of the main cells involved in the attacks.

The molecule did this by blocking the production of the amino acids needed to power the cells.

And — crucially — it did this without blocking the release of other immune system cells needed to protect the body against invading organisms.


Could treat: Obesity

Jester’s Jackets geraniums could contain fat-busting qualities. A 2011 study showed mice fed chemicals from the flowers lost a significant amount of weight, especially visceral fat

A type of geranium known as Jester’s Jackets could be a weapon in the battle against obesity.

South Korean scientists are investigating the flowers’ fat-busting qualities after a 2011 study showed mice fed chemicals from the flowers lost a significant amount of weight — especially the visceral fat that gathers around organs and is linked to heart disease and diabetes.

The results, published in the journal Molecular Medicine, showed the geranium extract also reduced levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, similarly harmful fats.

Daffodils contain high quantities of a compound called galantamine, which helps to treat mild symptoms of Alzheimer’s


Could treat: Alzheimer’s disease

The bulb of this bright spring favourite contains high quantities of a compound called galantamine, which is used to make a drug called Reminyl.

This drug helps to treat mild to moderate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In the plant, it’s thought that galantamine helps to fight infection, but in humans, it helps to slow the breakdown of a chemical called acetylcholine — a messenger that sends signals between nerve cells in the brain.

Alzheimer’s patients have lower levels of this chemical.

Taken as a tablet or a liquid, the new drug has been shown to boost performance in memory and thinking tests.

However, it takes ten tonnes of daffodil bulbs to make 1kg of Reminyl, so many drug firms use a synthetic version that is much easier to produce.

Foxgloves have been used to treat heart failure since 1785. Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has turned a synthetic version of the plant into a tablet called digoxin


Could treat: Heart failure

The foxglove is one of our most distinctive flowering plants, producing tall, elegant spires of pink and purple bells.

But it was also one of the first flowers to inspire a medicine.

In 1785, William Withering, a country doctor from Shrop-shire, noticed that a patient with congestive heart failure — where the heart fails to pump blood properly because of high blood pressure, heart disease or damaged heart valves — was improving after taking a traditional herbal remedy made from foxgloves.

He discovered that the flowers, as well as the sap, seeds, stem and nectar, had the ability to slow and strengthen the heart rate.

Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has turned a synthetic version of the plant into a tablet called digoxin (sold under the brand name Lanoxin), which is used to treat patients with heart failure and atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm).

It works by increasing levels of calcium in cardiac muscle by binding to the cells in the heart that pump calcium in and out.

This reduces the cells’ ability to remove calcium, which strengthens the heart muscle’s power to contract and boosts the amount of oxygen-rich blood being pumped to organs, muscles and tissues round the body.

It also improves the heart’s rhythm by slowing the heart rate and reducing ‘flutters’ that can lead to a build-up of blood inside the muscle (and raise the risk of a clot travelling to the brain and causing a stroke).

However, digoxin’s use has declined over the years as safer and more effective drugs have emerged.

Source: Daily Mail

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