For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have given their patients honeysuckle, often in the form of tea, to help alleviate certain ailments. Now, researchers think that this age-old practice may have been on to something. A molecule within the plant has been found to directly target influenza, making it a potential treatment option for the troublesome virus.
That’s at least according to a study recently published in the journal Cell Research, which details how the molecule MIR2911 seems to specifically target the working of the influenza-A virus (IAV) – a type flu virus specifically associated with the avian, Spanish, and swine flu.
What’s bizarre is that, according to the researchers, the boiling process of honeysuckle is the same reason that scientists have largely ignored traditional Chinese medicine.
“It is commonly believed that [beneficial molecules] will be destroyed during this process. Indeed, our data showed that most [molecules] enriched in honeysuckle were degraded during the boiling process,” the authors wrote.
However, it was found that MIR2911 is selectively retained, as it appears unusually resistant to the damages of boiling. In this case, Chinese medicine was hitting the nail on the head by serving the medicinal plant as a tea.
To determine how exactly the molecule helps fights an influenza infection, researchers delivered boiled honeysuckle to a group of lab mice in the form of a soup. They quickly found that in infected mice, MIR2911 was targeting two genes associated with viral replication – PB2 and NS1 – binding to their messenger RNAs and essentially getting in the way of the replication process. Unable to reproduce and spread in the body, the virus then simply dies out.
The researchers call MIR2911 a “virological penicillin,” as it is an exclusive example of a natural product directly targeting a wide variety of virus strains.
Stunningly, according to the team, an ongoing study capitalizing on these recent results has revealed that MIR2911 even targets the workings of the Ebola virus – a deadly disease that is threatening the world through its West African pandemic. Still, it’s important to note that the study is far from complete and the results are nowhere near concrete.