Rainforest plant helps treat psoriasis
July 14, 2005
A compound derived from an Amazon-rainforest tree is effective in the treatment of the skin disease psoriasis according to a study released in late June in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
Psoriasis is a genetic condition which, when triggered by certain factors such as injury or throat infection, leads to an over-production of skin cells known as keratinocytes. This over-production results in a thickening of the skin and raised red, scaly patches, usually on the elbows, knees and scalps, although it can occur on any area of the skin. Psoriasis sufferers find socializing difficult because of the appearance of their skin and some even develop a specific form of arthritis linked to psoriasis. About 2.1 percent of Americans have psoriasis, including 4.5 million adults. While the disease can affect people of any age, it most often strikes those between 15 and 35, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
While Dithranol, as the compound is known, has been used in the treatment of psoriasis since the nineteenth century, the key breakthrough in the Newcastle University study was in understanding how and why Dithranol works. Researchers found an that Dithranol does more than just treat psoriasis symptoms — the compound actually kills off the cells that cause the condition. Laboratory studies showed that Dithranol very quickly targeted skin cells’ mitochondria – the part of a cell that generates energy – causing the cells to die within 24 – 48 hours of the application of the drug.
The research team hopes that their findings will lead to more convenient targeted treatments for the disease. Currently Dithranol is only used for severe cases of the disease and requires application by trained medical personnel.
The ointment, known as Goa powder in India, is derived from the araroba tree, a species found in the rain forests of the Amazon. Rain forests are the source of many compounds useful for medicinal purposes. Rain forest plants have been synthesizing these compounds for millions of years to protect against predators, infection, pests, and disease. This production makes rain forest species an excellent reservoir of medicines and chemical templates with which researchers can create new drugs. Drugs derived from rain forest plant compounds have been used to treat medical conditions ranging from childhood leukemia to hangovers. 70% of the plants identified as having anti-cancer characteristics by the US National Cancer Institute are found only in the tropical rainforest.
This article used information from the National Psoriasis Foundation, Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Newcastle University, and mongabay.com.