Plant Used in Chinese Medicine Could Protect Against Sepsis

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Researchers have discovered that a compound from a plant widely used in Chinese medicine has the potential to protect against sepsis. Their findings appear in the journal Biochemical Pharmacology.

The scientists, from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, studied the impact of plant compounds known as tanshinones on inflammation. According to Medical News Today, their work identifies more applications for the use of Chinese traditional medicine in traditional western medicine.

The body actually needs inflammation to maintain itself in a healthy state. However, excessive inflammation can cause tissue and organ damage, leading to illnesses such as sepsis.

The cause of sepsis, a very serious illness, is an overwhelming response by the body's immune system to infection, says the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. At the sign of an infection, the immune system releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight it. Blood clots and leaky vessels form, impeding blood flow.

This process damages organs by shutting off their full supply of oxygen and nutrients. In some cases, the patient ends up in septic shock. As organs such as the lungs, kidneys, and liver fail, death is possible.

Sepsis is always the result of an underlying medical condition. Although it can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses, a huge bacterial infection is usually to blame. Every year, a severe form of sepsis affects around 750,000 Americans.

Feinstein Institute scientists have for years researched methods to stop persistent inflammation. Research conducted on mice by the Institute's Haichao Wang, Ph.D., and colleagues showed that tanshinone IIA sodium sulfonate (TSN-SS) inhibited the release of HMGB1 outside cells. HMGB1 is a DNA protein that in overabundance causes sepsis. Earlier research showed that when TSN-SS inhibited HMGB1, mice were protected against death by sepsis.

Tanshinones are compounds derived from Danshen, the dried root of Salvia miltiorrhiza. This plant has been widely used in China and in some other countries to treat cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The Feinstein research uncovered information on a way to accomplish intracellular drug delivery. The scientists hope that it will impact the treatment of sepsis and a number of other conditions, such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

My father died at 71 of sepsis following surgery for a burst aneurysm. His immune system was suppressed by five years of corticosteroids. When he developed an infection at the surgical site, doctors were unable to control it. He lingered for two weeks before succumbing to sepsis. I remember well the feeling of helplessness among his doctors and nurses.

Sepsis is a frightening condition. Many patients who recover sustain permanent physical damage. Hospital use of a plant to ward off the condition in a blend of Chinese and western medicine might be years away, but offers hope to any patient facing the possibility of sepsis.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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