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Geranium plants could hold the key to a new generation of HIV treatments, research suggests.
Extracts of the geranium plant Pelargonium sidoides inactivate HIV-1 and prevent the virus invading human cells.
HIV is divided into two types – HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the majority of cases.
Researchers at the German Research Centre for Environmental Health, in Munich, say extracts from the geranium plants could represent a potential new class of anti-HIV-1 drugs for the treatment of AIDS.
They found that root extracts from the plants contain a compound that attacks HIV-1 and prevents the virus replicating inside the human body.
They found it also protects blood and immune cells from infection by the virus.
It blocks the attachment of HIV particles to human cells and, thus, effectively prevents the virus invading the cells.
Several clinical trials have already demonstrated that the geranium extracts are safe for human use and in Germany they are already licenced for use as a herbal medicine.
Research group leader Professor Ruth Brack-Werner said: ‘[Geranium] extracts are a very promising lead for the development of the first scientifically validated phytomedicine against HIV-1.
‘[The] extracts attack HIV-1 with a mode of action that is different from all anti-HIV-1 drugs in clinical use.
‘Therefore [they] may be a valuable supplement for established anti-HIV therapies.
‘Furthermore, [the] extracts are attractive candidates for increasing anti-HIV-1 therapy options in resource-limited settings, since they are easy to produce and do not require refrigeration.
‘The results of our study and the proven safety of [the] extracts encourages their testing in HIV-1 infected individuals as a next step.’
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 35 million people in the world are infected with HIV, the majority with HIV-1.
Without treatment, HIV destroys the immune system and causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is a life-threatening disease.
HIV/AIDS is one of the 10 leading causes of death worldwide.
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