Thursday, December 23, 2010

Herb halts spread of HIV in blood

Dr Michael Odotte exhibits his products at a recent Kenya National Academy of Science regional conference in Nairobi. Photo/NATION CORRESPONDENT

Dr Michael Odotte exhibits his products at a recent Kenya National Academy of Science regional conference in Nairobi. Photo/NATION CORRESPONDENT 

By GATONYE GATHURA [email protected]

A vine which grows wildly in western Kenya and found to have antiretroviral properties is among a handful of neglected inventions in Africa with the potential to change the continent’s health landscape.

Imbasa as it is called locally in Emuhaya, or Tylosema fassoglensis botanically, also grows in parts South Nyanza and Maseno Hills.

It has been the subject of intense study by researchers from Kenyatta University, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Maseno University and North Carolina University in the US.

Using an extract from the climber, researchers led by Dr Michael B. Odotte, have developed a food supplement called Sunguprot now under commercial incubation at the Kenya Industrial Research Institute.

“It is a protein based protease inhibitor, meaning that it stops the replication of HIV in the body, and has been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards as fit for human consumption,” said Dr Odotte.

Last week Sunguprot was part of a slew of papers published by Canada’s McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health identified as having the potential to offer Africa a home grown health solution.

Sunguprot, says the paper published in the UK-based BioMed Central, is a promising product but it is being held back by lack of advanced scientific equipment to isolate compounds and funding to carry out large clinical trials.

Writing a forward for the papers that included innovations by the Kenya Medical Research Institutes and the Nairobi based International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenyan scholar at Harvard University Dr Calestus Juma says this has come at an opportune time.

“The publication has come at a time when firms in industrialised countries are rethinking their global strategies, especially in relation to the location of new research and production facilities. These papers show that some African countries could be viable partners as they seek to become part of the global knowledge ecology.”

Sunguprot, which was featured in the Nation last year, and comes in the form of flour for porridge, is described as a herbal food supplement with both antiretroviral and nutritive properties, ideal for people suffering from HIV/Aids, the malnourished and the aged.

Talking to the Nation, Dr Odotte said safety and efficacy studies had been carried out in conjunction with the Kemri and it had been found to be safe in primates and significantly lowered the HIV in the blood.

“We were funded by the National Council for Science and Technology to carry out limited clinical trials but we would still need to carry out larger studies,” Dr Odotte said.

He said, they are working with Maseno University on how to domesticate the wild plant for both commercial and conservation. “Already some farmers in Nyatike and Rongo are growing the plant on experimental bases.”

The limited trials carried out under Prof John Mecham of the Department of Biology, Meredith College and Prof Michael Otieno, Department of Pre-Clinical Sciences, Kenyatta University,

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