Zhang Xiaokun’s group has extracted a medicinal compound from the natural herb, Thunder god vine, which targets cell metabolism and could help tackle obesity.
Celastrol, extracted from Thunder god vine, and artemisinin, developed from sweet wormwood, are among five herbal compounds listed by the scientific journal Cell to have the most potential to treat illnesses where no cure has been discovered, such as cancer.
The research team led by Zhang Xiaokun, Dean of School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of XMU, found that celastrol from the Thunder god vine could clear inflamed mitochondria from cells to alleviate inflammation.
Mitochondria play an integral role in cell death, immunity and inflammation. By affecting inflamed mitochondria, celastrol can help control cell metabolism.
The team carried out the research on mice, and found that celastrol could effectively control weight increases in mice feeding on high fat food.
The research paper was published in journal Molecular Cell on April 6.
Zhang said his team would continue to research how celastrol regulates metabolism to explore new drugs, with low toxicity and high efficiency, to help people lose weight.
His research has been supported by the National Nature and Science Foundation and Xiamen South Sea Center.
Like sweet wormwood, Thunder god vine is native to China though it also grows in other East Asian countries. The herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for treating arthritis and autoimmune diseases.
However, the whole plant is extremely toxic. It must undergo a lot of processing to reduce toxicity before being used in traditional medicine. In modern research, the plant has been used in clinical trials on AIDS treatment. Its compounds have been found to have the potential to treat joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis.