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Drugs from Nature Roundup

June 15, 2012

Medical researchers tackle deadly diseases with the help of worms and poppies.



Worms to the rescue. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Several years ago, we reported that some autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, could be treated by ingesting certain parasitic worms. The worms produced compounds that affect the human immune system. Now, Australian scientists have developed an injectable compound called IL-5 cytokine that may use the same mechanism. In the journal Blood, they report that rats bred to exhibit an autoimmune disease improved after injections with the drug compared to control groups. They say human trials are two to five years away.

In other news, an international team of researchers report in the journal Science that they’ve discovered how the opium poppy makes a compound called noscapine, which shows promise as a cough suppressant and anti tumor agent. Learning to produce the compound without the need for the poppies could make it more widely available. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Illustration of the opium poppy plant by Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora of Germany, 1885 (Kurt Stueber/Wikimedia Commons)