Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Plants Against Parasites

Promising antimalarial extracted from a traditional medicine of Inuit and First Nations people in Canada

24 May 2023

Plants Against Parasites

From traditional knowledge to modern drug discovery, the natural world is a constant source of inspiration for medicine. Plants have proven especially useful in combating malaria, a disease caused by Plasmodium parasites and transmitted by mosquitoes: the widely-used antimalarial artemisinin was extracted from sweet wormwood, a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, and promising candidates may yet emerge from a different culture. Dwarf Labrador tea (Rhododendron subarcticum, pictured) is traditionally used by Inuit and First Nations people in Canada to treat a wide range of ailments. Studying the composition of its essential oil uncovered 53 different molecules, dominated by ascaridole, a compound also found in other medicinal plants. Laboratory tests revealed both the essential oil and isolated ascaridole were toxic to Plasmodium falciparum, suggesting potential for antimalarial activity. As Plasmodiumbecome increasingly resistant to current treatments, drugs inspired by this tough northern plant could add useful weapons to our arsenal.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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