Researchers at Imperial College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital have found that some traditional homemade soup broths have antimalarial properties and can interrupt the life cycle of the deadly malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum.
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Several parasites from the Plasmodium family that are transmitted to humans through mosquito bites can cause malaria, but P falciparum is the deadliest and is responsible for 99% of deaths caused by the disease.
Scientists are concerned about drug resistance
Over half of the world's population is vulnerable to malaria, and according to the World Health Organization, 219 million people were infected in 2017.
In many cases, the infection can be treated with antimalarial agents, but scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the drug resistance that is continuing to emerge.
The researchers decided to test the effects of traditional soups on malaria after discovering that the ingredient artemisinin, which originates from the Qinghao herb, has antimalarial properties. The team wanted to investigate whether other naturally occurring ingredients also possess these properties.
Children from diverse ethnic backgrounds provided samples of homemade broths
The team asked children at a primary school in London to bring in samples of soup broths made at home using traditional family recipes that have been passed down the generations as treatments for fever. The children came from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and the recipes were from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Of the 60 samples brought in, some contained too much oil or were too dense to be filtered, which left 56 different broths that were suitable for testing.
The 56 samples were incubated with cultures of P falciparum for three days to see whether any of them could prevent the growth of sexually immature parasites. They also tested whether any of the broths could block sexual maturation, the stage at which the parasite becomes able to infect mosquitos.
Five of the broths slowed parasite growth
As reported in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, five of the broths slowed the growth of the parasite by more than 50%, with two of the samples demonstrating an efficacy that was comparable to a widely used antimalarial drug.
Four other broths were more than 50% effective at blocking sexual maturation, thereby demonstrating the potential to prevent transmission of the parasite.
The recipes used for each of the vegetarian, chicken-based, and beef-based broths all varied, and no particular ingredient was found to be common to the broths that exhibited antimalarial activity.
The authors say the active ingredients will need to be identified and tested in clinical trials.
They add that the use of any broth shown to have antimalarial activity will depend on standardization of the preparation process, identification of the active ingredient, its fractionation and detailed toxicology testing in human cells, and then preclinical trials.
"This journey, mirroring that of artemisinin from the Qinghao herb, may as yet reveal another source of potent anti-infective treatment," say the researchers.
"At a time when there is a resurgent voice against evidence-based medicine, such exercises have great importance for educating the next generation about how new drugs are discovered, how they might work, and how untapped resources still exist in the fight against global diseases of significance," they conclude.
A screen of traditional soup broths with reported antipyretic activity towards the discovery of potential antimalarials. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 10.1136/archdischild-2019-317590