RIO DE JANEIRO -- Cat's claw, a plant of the Amazon already used as a treatment for a series of illnesses, is also effective in combating dengue fever, researchers at Brazil's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation announced Tuesday.
They said that experiments underway with an extract of the Uncaria tomentosa herb to prevent inflammation caused by dengue have shown promising results up to now, opening the possibility that a natural medicine against the disease could be developed.
The research began four years ago by scientists of the foundation, an organization linked to Brazil's Health Ministry and considered the most complete center for medical studies in Latin America.
According to researchers Claire Kubelka and Sonia Reis, the substance extracted from cat's claw acts directly in the production of the proteins necessary to react to the inflammatory effects of dengue.
The exaggerated inflammatory reaction is the main factor responsible for the deterioration of dengue cases.
Kubelka said that the experiment made use of a technique unprecedented in Brazil to analyze the anti-inflammatory capability of cat's claw in a test-tube culture of cells from healthy blood donors.
"This is one of several plants in which we have observed a preliminary result of relieving some inflammatory factors that occur when dengue infects the organism," the researcher said at a press conference in the foundation's offices.
"But we're experimenting with a number of plants whose names we won't release in the possibility that they can have an even better effect," she said.
No effective medicines exist at present to combat dengue, whose virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, so that the only recommended treatment is hydrating patients while they are recovering.
Nor does there exist up to now a vaccine that immunizes the people against dengue, a disease that last year infected close to 100 million people around the world.
Cat's claw is a climbing plant used by traditional medicine throughout the Amazon, where its bark, leaves and roots are used to produce different kinds of tea.
The plant is used to cure a variety of conditions from deep wounds to aching bones and kidney problems. The traditional medicine is also used to treat AIDS, infections, ulcers, cancer, blood clotting, diabetes and hemorrhoids, among other infirmities.