Monday, October 31, 2005

Star Anise - the world's last hope against bird flu?

Seemingly star anise, from which the drug Tamiflu is made, may be the only defense the world currently has against an avian flu pandemic.

The Independent, claims the herb star anise is the world's only weapon against the deadly disease bird flu. It says a shortage of the herb means Britain cannot produce enough of the drug Tamiflu to protect the public. Only star anise grown in the four provinces of China is suitable for manufacture into Tamiflu and 90 per cent of the harvest is already used by Roche.

A derivative of star anise, shikimic acid, is used in production of the drug Tamiflu (Oseltamivir Phosphate), which is said to reduce the severity of avian flu. The star anise from which Tamiflu is made is only grown in four provinces in China and "huge quantities" of its seeds are needed, according to the Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche. It is harvested for this purpose between March and May, purified and the shikimic acid extracted at the start of a 10-stage manufacturing process, which takes a year.

The Guardian says veterinary experts want the government to stockpile the vaccine to combat the disease's spread.

The Daily Telegraph says the Tories and Liberal Democrats claim stocks should have been amassed sooner.

I have got a jar on my spice shelf if anyone needs it.

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Beans and soya beat lung cancer

Mounting evidence suggests eating a diet rich in plant foods such as beans and soya cuts the risk of lung cancer.

The latest study involving more than 3,000 US people found those who ate more of these foods were less likely to develop lung cancer.

The protective effect, thought to be down to oestrogen-like compounds within the foods, appeared to reduce cancer risk by as much as 46%.

The research appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Source - BBC News


'Cannabis' acts as antidepressant

A chemical found in cannabis can act like an antidepressant, researchers have found.

A team from Canada's University of Saskatchewan suggest the compound causes nerve cells to regenerate.

The Journal of Clinical Investigation study showed rats given a cannabinoid were less anxious and less depressed.

But UK experts warned other conflicting research had linked cannabis, and other cannabinoids, to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Source - BBC News


Exercise now to cut dementia risk

Exercising for half an hour at least twice a week during midlife can significantly cut a person's risk of dementia later, say researchers.

People in their late 40s and early 50s who do this could reduce their risk of dementia by about 50%, according to a study reported in Lancet Neurology.

Those who are genetically prone to Alzheimer's disease could see a reduction of about 60%, it adds.

The Swedish team said the findings had large disease prevention implications.

Source - BBC News

Charles study backs NHS therapies

Complementary therapies should be given a greater role in the NHS, a report commissioned by the Prince of Wales has said.

The report, by economist Christopher Smallwood, said patients with conditions such as back pain and stress can benefit from some of the therapies.

However, there is a shortage of treatments such as acupuncture and osteopathy in poorer areas.

Source - BBC News

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Cabbages 'cut lung cancer risks'

Eating vegetables from the cabbage family can reduce the risk of lung cancer for people with a certain genetic make-up, scientists say.

Such cruciferous vegetables had already been linked to reduced rates of lung cancer, but it had not been clear why.

The study found eating the vegetables at least once a week cut cancer risk for people with inactive versions of two genes, carried by 70% of people.

The Lancet study was by International Agency for Cancer Research scientists.

Source - BBC News


Fungi 'antibiotics' for superbugs

Scientists believe they may have found powerful new antibiotics in fungi that could fight drug-resistant bacteria.

The protein compound or peptide which lives in a fungus found in northern European pine forests is as powerful as penicillin and vancomycin, they say.

When tested in the lab, "plectasin" killed Streptococcus bacteria including strains that are now resistant to conventional antibiotics.

The Dutch and US researchers' findings are published in Nature.

Source - BBC News.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Anti-HIV drug from rainforest almost lost before its discovery

Rainforest plants have long been recognized for their potential to provide healing compounds. Indigenous peoples of the rainforest have used medicinal plants for treating a wide variety of health conditions while western pharmacologists have derived a number of drugs from such plants.

However, as forests around the world continue to fall -- the Amazon alone has lost more than 200,000 miles of forest since the 1970s -- there is a real risk that pharmaceutically-useful plants will disappear before they are examined for their chemical properties. Increasingly, it is becoming a race against time to collect and screen plants before their native habitats are destroyed. One near miss occurred recently with a compound that has shown significant anti-HIV effects, Calanolide A.

Calanolide A is derived from Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum, an exceedingly rare member of the Guttiferae or mangosteen family. Samples of Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum were first collected in 1987 on an National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored expedition in Sarawak, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Once scientists determined that Calophyllum lanigerum var austrocoriaceum showed activity against HIV, researchers returned to the original kerangas forest near Lundu (Sarawak, Malaysia) to gather more plant matter for isolating the active compound. The tree was gone -- likely felled by locals for fuelwood or building material. The disappearance of the tree lead to mad search by botanists for further specimen. Good news finally came from the Singapore Botanic Garden which had several plants collected by the British over 100 years earlier. Sarawak banned the felling and export of Calophyllum shortly thereafter.


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