Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Self-Medicating Chimps May Help Humans Discover New Drugs

Ugandan and French scientists have suggested that chimpanzees' ability to treat ailments with plants might help humans discover new drugs.

The study, led by Sabrina Krief, a French veterinary and professor at the Paris National History Museum, monitored 50 chimps in Uganda's Kibale forest.

"It's the first time that a chimpanzee observation aimed at discovering new medicine for humans is conducted within a scientific framework," Discovery News quoted Krief, as saying.

John Kasenene, professor of botanics at the University of Makerere in Kampala said: "We want to compare which plants are used by the traditional healers or traditional practitioners, and the medicines used by chimpanzees. Is there a relation for the kind of treatment they go for?"

The researchers explained how a chimp named Yogi, suffering from intestinal worms, ingested Aneilema aequinoctiale leaves in the morning and Albizia grandibracteata bark in the evening for treatment.

These plants have been used in traditional medicine in some areas, and the team later confirmed through in vitro testing that they acted against parasites.

Another male chimpanzee who had been feverish and weak was observed eating only Trichilia rubescens leaves for a whole day.

The plants' molecules, later isolated by the scientists in a laboratory, were found to be effective against malaria.

"These findings have allowed us to discover new plant molecules with significant properties against malaria, worms or tumours," Krief said.

Dennis Kamoga, a botanics researcher from Makerere University, is tasked with collecting samples from plants ingested by chimps that will later be analysed in both France and Uganda.

"What is surprising to me is that these chimps have no chemist, no lab... They simply move in and collect plants and eventually find themselves getting cured. It's a proof that they are very close to us," Dennis Kamoga, a botanics researcher from Makerere University.

"It's quite rare to find active molecules but especially new molecules which might put us on the path to developing new pharmaceuticals, which is the ultimate goal of the project," Krief said.

Krief said she hoped that, while advancing medicine for humans, the research project in Kibale could also contribute to "a better understanding and protection of the flora and the great apes" in the forest, both of which include critically endangered species.

Story here.

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