Researchers at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in Boston have discovered a potentially effective weapon in the fight against inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) — one that also has anti-aging properties. Tracy Keller, instructor of Developmental Biology, and a team of her colleagues have discovered the way a chemical in a Tibetan shrub blocks immune reactions that can lead to disease.
The chemical, called halofuginone, is found in the roots of the blue evergreen hydrangea (Dichroa febrifuga). The ancient Chinese have used the roots of the shrub, known as chang shan, for centuries as a medicinal treatment for malaria. In fact, it is still used in veterinary medications. Keller’s research team discovered that halofuginone works by suppressing the creation of harmful immune cells called Th17. It does this without suppressing the immune system completely.
Researchers hope to be able to use the drug to create targeted therapies for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, because halofuginone prevents the development of inflammation, Keller believes it also has the potential of being an effective anti-aging drug. This means a tiny shrub may be an even more powerful tool for medicine in the future.