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From folklore to science based medicine - Lowe granted US patent for anti-HIV medicinal potential from lignum vitae

Published:Monday | March 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dr Henry Lowe
The lignum vitae plant.

Following on the heels of recent United States patents for the research and development (R&D) of nutraceutical and potential pharmaceutical products from Jamaican medicinal plants, Jamaican research scientist Dr Henry Lowe has received another patent from the US Patents and Trademarks Office. This time, the patent award is for his research on the anti-HIV medicinal potential from the lignum vitae.

Before this, Lowe and his team had a peer-reviewed paper published in the April 2014 issue of the European Journal of Medicinal Plants on the anti-HIV properties present in the lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale L. Zygophyllaceae) plant, which bears Jamaica's national flower.




The team included scientists at his Bio-Tech Research and Development Institute, located on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), as well as Dr Ngeh Toyang and Dr Joseph Bryant from the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"My team and I are particularly pleased that not only have we received another patent from the United States Patent Office, but more so that we have taken the idea of a folklore practice and have been able to use science to verify those beliefs and practices," said Lowe.

According to Lowe, the team did substantially more scientific work on the original discovery, and subsequently applied for a US patent.

This patent is for the R&D of "therapeutic isolates" from the lignum vitae plant that inhibits HIV activity and could help prevent sexual transmission of the virus. The patent was first applied for in July 2015 and was granted approval under patent number 9,814,747 on November 14, 2017.




The main ideas for the R & D came from the folklore use of the plant for the treatment of herpes blisters. It is this observation which led the team to investigate the potential of the lignum vitae plant for the treatment of other viral diseases such as HIV.

Lowe and his research team disclosed that the isolates from the lignum vitae plants could be developed as a nutraceutical or a drug for use in controlling HIV-1 replication in infected patients as well as a method for inhibiting the virus. This theory, noted in the patent, can be achieved by administering a pharmaceutically acceptable amount of the isolates to prevent HIV-viral replication without causing damage to normal cells.

"As a result of the very potent anti-HIV activity of isolates from the plant, there is significant confidence that the work being pursued could lead to low-cost HIV/AIDS drugs. This can be a part of the current cocktail mixes being used or new less expensive HIV/AIDS drugs used for combinational therapy, which can be developed at a lesser cost and made more available," Lowe added.

With their intellectual property now secured, Lowe said the team plans to further the development of therapeutic agents, beginning with nutraceutical products for the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS. He added that the further development of a potent anti-HIV nutraceutical or pharmaceutical drug will be executed in partnership with the research collaborators in the Republic of South Africa, where Jamaica has established a strong and viable bilateral science and technology relationship.


The lignum vitae plant


The Lignum Vitae plant, which is indigenous to Jamaica and the region, has long been recognised for its economic potential, including strong folk medicinal applications. In recent years, some of the folk medicinal properties have been evaluated and found to be valid.

Scientists have recently discovered that the resin (gummy substance found in the tree's bark) possesses two bioactive compounds, that is, guaiaconic acid and guaiaretic acid, which are highly effective anti-inflammatory agents that also work as local stimulants.

In some traditional medicinal practices, the resin from the plant is used to treat respiratory ailments as well as skin afflictions. In addition, the lignum vitae possesses laxative and diuretic properties while accelerating the elimination of toxic substances and wastes from the body, which made it applicable as a remedy for gout. Many of these and other medicinal potentials need to be explored scientifically and clinically.