CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've discovered the molecular secret of an effective ancient Chinese herbal remedy commonly prescribed for malaria.
Chinese herbalists have used a root extract known as Chang Shan for two thousand years, and modern research suggests halofuginone, a compound derived from this extract of a type of hydrangea that grows in Tibet and Nepal, can treat many autoimmune disorders as well.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine say they've discovered the molecular action responsible for the herbal extract's effectiveness.
Halofuginone, or HF, triggers a stress-response pathway that blocks the development of a harmful class of immune cells called Th17 cells, they said, implicated in many autoimmune disorders including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.
"HF prevents the autoimmune response without dampening immunity altogether," Malcolm Whitman, a professor of developmental biology, said in a Harvard release Monday. "This compound could inspire novel therapeutic approaches to a variety of autoimmune disorders."
The findings could lead to new drugs that selectively inhibit autoimmune pathology without suppressing the immune system, the researchers said.