A research team have found, through sophisticated technologies, the antitumor effects of Petiveria alliacea or anamú, a plant that grows as a weed in tropical areas and whose various uses are well known by indigenous medicine in Central American countries. and herbalists and taitas recommend infusions of this plant to people who suffer from serious diseases, including cancer.
In 2004, the researcher finished two post-doctorates in France and returned to the country with the illusion of uniting immunology (a branch of biology that studies the body’s defense system) with plants, thinking about the great biodiversity of Colombia. Colciencias arranged the resources to begin the investigation with the anamú.
The plant is brought fresh from Cachipay or Viotá, in Cundinamarca, and dried. Then it is put in ethanol and a process of mixtures with different solvents is carried out in order to extract its compounds, thus obtaining various extracts.
You do two things with extracts. On the one hand, they are divided and applied to tumor cells to learn about the different biological effects of anamu. The group observed antitumor effects in those plant extracts produced from a mixture of ethyl acetate and other solvents, in different proportions. These were sent to the Institute of Natural Products in France, where, through sophisticated technologies, the characteristics of their compounds are identified. These characteristics serve as reference data for which molecules these compounds correspond to. Knowing the biological function of each compound present in the extracts is an immense job. For that, they have already begun to purify the extracts, necessary work for this purpose.
The effects that the research group has detected when exposing breast cancer and leukemia tumor cells to anamu extracts include stimulation of the immune system and alterations that kill tumor cells, such as programmed death of them ( cell suicide), some expressions that indicate alterations in its energy consumption, the arrest of the cell cycle that does not allow the cell to replicate, some alterations in its skeleton and the increase of special proteins that indicate cellular stress. The doctor says:
“We don’t want to present these research results to a pharmaceutical house. I believe that it is our wealth and that, together with the possibility that the university can put them at the service of the community, means that the purpose of the team is not to sell the compounds to pharmaceutical companies but to set up structures that allow the development of research and development processes to be applied in society ”.
Difficulties and rewards
The researcher comments that it has been difficult to obtain the plant, since access to natural resources is strongly regulated, and sometimes the necessary procedures make research processes less fluid. “The protection of natural resources does not mean that they are untouchable. The better we know our biodiversity, the better we can protect it ”. Many researchers agree that in Colombia, policies and regulations aimed at the conservation, knowledge and sustainable use of biodiversity are too complex.
“The fact of convincing them that it is not only having a degree but working for something that generates development,” says the doctor, “and realizing the moment when they are already committed, then I tell myself that I can die in peace.”
Being able to mix basic science with state-of-the-art technologies. Cases like that of a lady with papilloma cancer who took anamu and a month later she returned to the doctor before undergoing surgery and was not operated on. Or from doctors who want to collaborate in future phases of clinical studies.