Biotechnology and ancient Chinese medicines have little in common, but it now looks as if the two might be coming closer together with the development of a new immune system therapy based on the root of a plant that is used often in Chinese medicines -- Astragalus.
Astragalus might benefit those with HIV because immune cells often lose the ability to divide as they age, compromising the disease fighting ability of the body; this plant seems to ease that problem for immune cells. Damage occurs when a part of the cell chromosome known as a telomere becomes progressively shorter with cell division. A new UCLA AIDS Institute study has found that a chemical from the Astragalus root can prevent or slow this progressive telomere shortening.
This ability of Astragalus could make it a key weapon in the fight against HIV. Study co-author Rita Effros, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the UCLA AIDS Institute, said that "The problem is that when we're dealing with a virus that can't be totally eliminated from the body, such as HIV, the T-cells fighting that virus can't keep their telomerase turned on forever." The immune cells' telomeres get shorter and they enter a stage of degradation; Astragalus has now been shown to impact this condition favorably.
The new study, to be published in the Nov. 15 print edition of the Journal of Immunology describes how the Astragalus plant may be turned into a new biotechnology therapy by the Geron Corporation, a biotech outfit located in Menlo Park, CA. It is not clear if the root itself can be taken to have the same effect without further manipulation, but I would strongly suggest that any immune compromised person check with their doctor to see if this herb could be a part of their daily regimen.