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Holy Herb Could Help Treat Alzheimer's Disease: Salk

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There are more than a hundred plant-derived active ingredients that are used as medicines. Digoxin, the active ingredient in heart failure drug, commonly marketed under the trade name Lanoxin, extracted from the plant Digitalis; L-DOPA, which is used in treating the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, found in Mucuna species; Morphine, a highly potent opiate analgesic, derived from Papaver somniferum (poppy); and anti-malaria compound Quinine derived from Cinchona are testimonies for the medicinal powers of plants.

Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have identified a compound in a plant with potential in the treatment of Alzheimer's.

The plant is Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), also known as "holy herb", which is native to California, and the possible healing compound identified is Sterubin.

The medicinal properties of the holy herb have long been known. Native California tribes used the leaves of Yerba santa in the form of a tea to treat respiratory sicknesses, colds, and stomachaches. A hot, potent extract can be applied hot to a poison oak rash to quicken healing. A poultice of leaves may be applied to flesh wounds, sore muscles, above bone fractures, and where rheumatism strikes. It was also used as a smoke plant, which was said to help those with asthma. In addition to smoking, the leaves can be chewed upon for pleasure. (Source: USDA Forest Service)

Although it has long been known that Yerba santa contains the active ingredient Sterubin and has anti-inflammatory effects, it is only now that Sterubin's neuroprotective activities have been identified.

The researchers plan to test Sterubin in an animal model of Alzheimer's and determine its drug-like characteristics and toxicity levels in animals. If all goes well as planned, the next step would be to test Sterubin in humans.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that causes disruptions in memory, cognition, personality, and other functions, and is the most common form of dementia among people age 65 and older.

An estimated 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and this number is projected to rise as high as 16 million by 2050. Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association.

No new Alzheimer's drug has been approved since 2003 - the year, in which Forest Labs' Namenda was approved in the U.S.

Senior Staff Scientist Pamela Maher, a member of Salk's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, run by Professor David Schubert, says, "And because age is a major risk factor, researchers are looking at ways to counter aging's effects on the brain. Our identification of sterubin as a potent neuroprotective component of a native California plant called Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) is a promising step in that direction."

The research titled "Old age-associated phenotypic screening for Alzheimer's disease drug candidates identifies sterubin as a potent neuroprotective compound from Yerba santa" appears in the February 2019 issue of the journal Redox Biology.

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