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HIV drug safety trials begin

11th February 2011

Researchers in South Africa have begun trials of a traditional herbal medicine that may help to relieve symptoms in AIDS patient.


The medicine will undergo safety and efficacy tests funded by the department of science and technology.

The 10 million rand (US$1.4 million) study will trial Sutherlandia frutescens, which has been dubbed the 'cancer bush'.

The plant is credited with wide-ranging powers to alleviate symptoms.

Researchers at the University of the Western Cape's South African Herbal Science and Medicine Institute (SAHSMI) will conduct the phase IIb trial.

They have already been carrying out scientific and clinical studies on the plant for the past seven years.

A previous IIa trial, small-scale and therefore unpublished, showed a good level of tolerance for dried Sutherlandia leaf, and no side effects.

Lead researcher Doug Wilson says the research is likely to be finalised later this year.

But he warned that far more work would be needed before Sutherlandia treatments for HIV patients would be available to consumers.

Before drug development could start, the active ingredients of the plant would have to be isolated, he said.

Government official Tommy Makhode said the government was funding the study because it was led by South African researchers.

Any formulation that would be registered with the Medicines Control Council if the trial was successful, he said.

The researchers have faced a number of obstacles since they began their research in 2003, including regulatory delays and public-service strikes.

He said the team continued to experience significant opposition to our work from the mainstream research and pharmaceutical communities.

He said the trial's critics appeared not to grasp the importance of building bridges between various knowledge systems in support of better public health.

The team had operated nonetheless in spite of limited funding and academic understanding, he said.

Johnson, who is also South African director of the International Centre for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies, said the attitude had held back scientific investigation into traditional herbal medicine systems.

He said it was in the interest of public health to understand better a traditional medicine system still used by most people in South Africa.

Traditional healers in South Africa use Sutherlandia to treat a slew of ailments from obesity to aches and pains.

However, many people have criticised companies who market the plant or its products, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support their claims.

Some people have reported that the plant promotes appetite, weight gain, sleep, exercise tolerance and an overall sense of well-being in patients suffering from HIV and AIDS.

It has also been linked to improved CD4 blood cell counts and a lower viral load in people with HIV, with claims made that it slows the progression to full-blown AIDS.

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Mark Curtis

Monday 14th February 2011 @ 4:40

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