Personal care treatments

Ayurvedic compound may help design new COVID-19 treatments

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Neem bark extract may provide a useful starting point for new treatments for COVID-19. Nuk2013/Shutterstock
  • Researchers in Colorado and India are studying neem bark as a way to treat COVID-19.
  • They learned that an extract from the bark of the tree, Azadirachta indica, may have antiviral benefits and help reduce symptoms in people infected with SARS-CoV-2.
  • Scientists believe Azadirachta indica may act as a pan-antiviral, capable of treating future emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, researchers continue to search for ways to prevent infection with the virus and treat the disease.

Scientists from the University of Colorado and the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research believe that Azadirachta indica, more commonly known as neem, could play a key role in the future of the pandemic. The tree is native to India and practitioners use it in Eastern Ayurvedic medicine.

A preclinical study, published in the journal Virologyexamines how the extract from the bark of Azadirachta indica affects human lung cells and mice infected with SARS-CoV-2.

According to the authors, neem bark (NTB) is “antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, anti-allergic, antiparasitic, and antifungal.” As such, they wanted to know if NTB extract could help prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and its replication.

“The goal of this research is to develop a neem medicine that can reduce the risk of serious illness when someone [has an infection] with coronaviruses,” says study co-author Dr. Maria Nagel, research professor in the Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In different experiments, the researchers tested the NTB extract on human lung cells and mice with SARS-CoV-2.

After testing the NTB extract on human lung cells, they found that it “limited the pathological effects of several coronaviruses”.

In tests on mice, they found that NTB extract inhibited inflammation in the lungs. This is an important finding, given the damage caused by COVID-19 to the lungs.

Moreover, the NTB extract prevented the virus from replicating so much. It also prevented the virus from causing “inflammation of the brain, spinal cord and liver”.

Although these results look promising, more research is needed before health experts can use NTB as a viral prevention or therapy.

“The next step in our research is to identify specific components of neem bark extract that are antiviral. Since these components bind to various regions of SARS-CoV-2, we believe it will be effective on emerging variants with spike mutations,” says Dr. Nagel.

“We will then determine the dosage formulation of an antiviral drug to treat coronavirus infections.”

Dr. Amichai Perlman speak with Medical News Today on the results of the study. Dr. Perlman is a pharmaceutical expert at K Health, a biotechnology company based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“I think this is an interesting and promising study,” commented Dr. Perlman. “This suggests that specific compounds in neem bark extract are active against coronavirus and may be useful in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.”

“However, this is a ‘preclinical’ study, based on laboratory tests in cells and animals,” Dr. Perlman continued. “Therefore, further research is needed to conclusively establish its efficacy and safety in humans.”

The authors acknowledge that this study had some limitations since the predominant results with NTB extract were in mice.

“Mechanistic studies of the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 are difficult in patients,” write the authors. “[And] experimental animal models of [human coronaviruses] are limited to mimicking human disease.

Professor Winston MorganDirector of Impact and Innovation at the Medicines Research Group at the University of East London, also spoke with DTM on the study. He agreed the mouse study had limitations, commenting that it was “interesting, but very preliminary”.

“The study focuses on efficacy (reduced viral particle replication and organ damage) rather than [the] safety of the extract, so for example, we don’t know what the impact of the extract is on mice beyond 6 days.

– Prof. Morgan

He went on to say that the extract could cause long-term problems.

“Unlike vaccinations, which require a limited dosage, the problem with all antiviral drugs is that the plasma concentration must be maintained at high levels over a long period of time to provide protection. […] Long-term dosing is likely to cause short-term and certainly long-term toxicity issues.

“This study should be seen as a starting point rather than the solution,” Professor Morgan said.

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