Saturday, June 06, 2009

How the humble hydrangea shrub could hold the key to curing MS, diabetes and arthritis

This sounds like very good news indeed

Its bright and beautiful flowers bring a splash of colour to gardens all over Britain. But it seems the hydrangea is more than just a pretty bloom. A drug made from its roots could be used to treat a raft of common diseases, researchers say. The colourful shrub - a staple of Chinese medicine - has the power to 'revolutionise' the treatment of multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and some forms of diabetes and arthritis, scientists claimed yesterday. These diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body.

Existing treatments are expensive, have to be injected, and do not address the biological cause of the problem. Powerful drugs which suppress the immune system can be used as a last resort but leave patients at risk of infections and other serious side-effects. Now it appears that a medicine derived from the hydrangea's root could offer an alternative.

Experiments found that it blocked the formation of a type of white blood cell involved in autoimmune disease. Crucially, the drug does not seem to affect other kinds of cell vital to the body's defences - meaning it does not otherwise inhibit the immune system. Mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease were far less severely affected when given low doses of the hydrangea-based drug, which is called halofuginone, the journal Science reported. Halofuginone is already used to treat a rare autoimmune disease which affects the skin and internal organs.

Much more research would be needed for it to be given the green light to treat other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. However, scientists say it is a promising avenue of research. Dr Anjana Rao, of the Children's Hospital in Boston in the U.S., said: 'Halofuginone may herald a revolution in the treatment of certain types of auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.' Her fellow researcher Dr Mark Sundrud added: 'This is really the first description of a small molecule that interferes with auto-immune pathology but is not a general immune suppressant.'

Hydrangea root has traditionally been used to relieve inflammation and 'cleanse' the joints. It is one of the 50 staple herbs of Chinese medicine and is also a traditional medicine of north American Cherokee Indians. An extract of hydrangea leaf is also said to have anti-malarial properties.


Paralysed stroke victim 'cured' with botox

An Australian stroke victim who has been paralysed for more than two decades can walk again after being injected with botox. Russel McPhee, from Gippsland, Victoria was a fit, healthy meat worker who played football, cricket and basketball when, at the age of 26, he collapsed suddenly at work. When he woke in hospital he was told he had suffered a devastating stroke and that he would never walk again. "I felt my life had ended," he told The Times. "I lost my job, my wife left me, I ended up with nothing."

Today, Mr McPhee, 49, can walk almost unaided for up to 20 metres and can cover 100 metres with a walking frame. "I thought I would die in my wheelchair,” he said. “My life has started all over again. "I have seen people cry when they realise I’m standing beside my chair. Tough men, blokes I went to school with and played sport with, weep when they see me.”

His dramatic improvement came after treatment with botox, or botulinum toxin injections at the St John of God rehabilitation centre in Nepean, Victoria. Just one month after his first injection, he was able to stand up and walk a few yards, with a helper on either side. Now he can walk the length of a room with only a guiding hand on his arm.

Botox is an accepted treatment for the type of paralysis commonly associated with strokes - it was used to treat muscle spasm years before it was adopted by the cosmetics crowd. But patients usually show the best effects if they are treated soon after a stroke. Such a dramatic improvement after so long is almost unheard of.

Mr McPhee’s doctor, rehabilition specialist Dr Nathan Johns said botox on its own would not have worked without Mr McPhee's own extraordinary strength of will. "When he came to us the spasticity in his muscles had not been treated for 20 years so it was very strong,” said Dr Johns. "Usually giving a patient botulinum toxin relieves the stiffness by relaxing the muscle, but it also weakens the muscle which means the patient would not regain much mobility. "But Russell had unusually good muscle power despite the fact that he’d been in a wheelchair for so long.”

Crucially, Mr McPhee had repeatedly, over the years, attempted to get out of his wheelchair and stand on his own. He was not successful, managing at most a few seconds on his feet before he collapsed. “Often I would lie on the floor for hours, just hoping that someone might drop by so they could pick me up again," he said. Those repeated, heart-breaking attempts to stand built up a core muscle strength on which his doctors and physiotherapists were able to work.

Dr Johns said; "We injected the botulinum toxin directly into his muscles 18 months ago. After 10 days the muscles started to relax and in 12 weeks, as the botulinum toxin took effect and he started intensive physiotherapy, we saw a marked improvement."

Russell's journey to mobility came when he was re-united with a childhood sweetheart, Kerry Crossley, who determined to help him walk again. Ms Crossley was referred to Dr Johns who was, said Mr McPhee: "The first person to give me hope. "Dr Johns took one look at me and said; ‘Botox will fix you up'. Twenty years ago I had been told I might not even live but here he was saying he could help me walk. It was a very emotional moment. Suddenly I had a chance. "The first time I was able to walk was amazing. My son was only a few months old when I had the stroke and I have always wanted to show him that I could walk like other dads."

Dr Johns said: "He is the best example we have of such significant gains after treatment with botulinum toxin. Other patients have shown improvement, but they were already ambulant.”

Professor John Olver, one of Australia's top stroke experts, said Mr McPhee's recovery after so long in a wheelchair was "highly unusual but quite feasible." Professor Olver, the Medical Director of Epworth Rehabilitation in Victoria said: "We use botulinum toxin routinely for patients with spacticity which has been caused by stroke, brain damage or heart disease. “But we use it very early on, usually within weeks of a stroke, to prevent the spasticity from becoming a problem. "After stroke muscles tend to become very stiff or spastic which can prevent movement. "Sometimes the spasticity is so severe we inject those muscles with botulinum toxin, which relaxes the muscles enough to allow a physiotherapist to strengthen and stretch them. "It is unfortunate that this patient had to wait for 20 years and extremely unusual that his treatment was so successful after being immobile for so long. But he's very fortunate that his muscles are strong enough to allow him to be able to walk."

Mr McPhee is now planning to get rid of his walking frame altogether. "I want to go dancing with Kerry and play basketball with my son," he said.


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