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MU Researcher Tests Interactions of Traditional African Treatment and HIV drugs

Nov. 18, 2008

Story Contact:  Kelsey Jackson, (573) 882-8353,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Although most Americans have never heard of the plant Sutherlandia frutescens, it is one of the most widely used herbal supplements in South Africa and is becoming increasingly more available in other countries through its sale on the internet. The herb is credited as an immune booster in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and even as a cure for cancer.  Despite its popularity and testaments of its healing properties, little is known about how Sutherlandia interacts with other prescription drugs. In a new study, a University of Missouri researcher will assess the effects of Sutherlandia on a family of enzymes involved in metabolizing several important drugs, including those administrated in Africa to treat HIV. 
“Western medicine cannot assume it has all the answers because we have better technology,” said Kelsey Flynt, a medical student in the MU School of Medicine. “Sutherlandia is as widely used in some African countries as ibuprofen is used in the United States. It’s ignorant to assume that this therapy has no positive effects for patients when there is no supporting evidence to back that assumption. Because of their widespread use, it’s very important to know how complementary and alternative treatments interact with prescribed treatments.” 
Flynt will assess the effects of Sutherlandia on cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are important for metabolizing prescription medications. Altered activity of these enzymes could be detrimental to patients, Flynt said. The study will compare two groups of patients. One group will be assigned to take Sutherlandia, while the other group will take St. John’s Wort, which is a potent inducer of P450 enzymes. Researchers will compare participants’ P450 enzymes activity level before and after they take the herbal drugs.
“It’s very important to test commonly used herbal therapies, such as Sutherlandia,” Flynt said. “Often, patients do not report all of the treatments they are using with their doctors, and if they do, doctors may have little understanding of how the herbal medication interacts with other drugs. This study will fill, to a small extent, the existing knowledge gap.”
This study is funded by the MU Institute for Clinical and Translational Science. The Institute is a campus-wide commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration in clinical and translational science. The Institute supports the creation of an optimal academic environment for the MU research community to extend and translate recent scientific advances and embrace the value of an inclusive scientific community that engages practitioners, consumers, families and stakeholder, in the educational and research process. The goal of the Institute is to have a meaningful impact on the quality-of-life and the health of Missouri citizens, the nation and the world.