The first clinical trial of an herbal medicine for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in humans has been completed, with results expected in the next few months.
The study, led by Dr. Robert A. Kochel of the University of North Carolina, Cary, found that a combination of herbs — including the elephant’s bark — was able to reduce the severity of rashes in participants who were treated with it.
The herbal therapy is used as a way to relieve pain and inflammation in people with arthritis, and the results are promising, said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Matthew L. Hickey of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
“It was very surprising,” said Hickey, who was not involved in the study.
“I would say it’s a very exciting result, but we are not sure exactly how to interpret it.”
A previous study in mice also showed that the bark extract could prevent the inflammatory response associated with rheumatic disease, Hickey said.
The new study was published online Sept. 14 in Nature Communications.
The elephant bark extract is a traditional medicine in the African and Asian tribes, and it has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of illnesses, including rheumatism, asthma, and arthritis.
But the current study showed that a compound extracted from the elephant bark could also help people with the condition.
“There are a lot of people out there who are trying to do things in the elephant skin that they’re not supposed to be doing in the rhinoceros skin,” Hickey told The Associated Press by phone.
Hickey, an allergist at the Mayo Medical Center in Rochester and a senior research scientist at the University, said he and his colleagues have not looked at the effects of the herb on the rhino’s immune system.
The animals’ skin has evolved to protect them from the virus that causes rheematism, but they also have a complex immune system, and if there is a risk of exposure to the rhinos’ immune system — a potential hazard in the wild — then it would be prudent to use something else to treat rheuma.
Hickys herb extract was not tested on humans.
It is not clear whether the herb extract will work as well in humans.
“The only thing we know is that this compound is going to help a lot more people,” Hicks said.
Kochel, the study leader, said his research has shown that the herb’s high content of glycosides, which are small proteins that are produced by the body, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
Glycosides are found in the skin of many plant species, and some of the glycoside compounds in the bark can help reduce inflammation, Koches research showed.
Hickels team is still studying the effects on the immune system of the bark on the skin, Hickell said.
He is currently evaluating the effect of the herbs on the body’s response to other drugs, such as steroids.
“We don’t know exactly what the effects are yet,” Hickel said.
“There are other molecules that are already available, and I’m trying to find those out.”
The herb extract has been tested in human trials, but Hickey believes it has more promise in the field.
“If we can get a lot closer to that, I think it could be a game changer,” Hicckell added.
Copyright Associated Press