Scientists researching a cure for HIV have projected that a cure could be available in 18 to 24 months. The researchers were working on two natural compounds––prostatin and bryostatin––that they reproduced in the laboratory for medical purposes. Prostratin comes from the bark of the Samoan mamala tree. Paul Cox, an ethnobotanist and director of the Institute of Ethnomedicine in Wyoming, heard of the bark from a Samoan healer. Paul Wender, a chemist from California’s Stanford University, found in experiments with prostratin that it flushed out the virus from cells where it was hiding. Drugs are able to kill the virus when it is in the open, but not when it is hiding in cells. When patients stopped taking their medication, the virus resurfaced and quickly multiplied.
Wender was able to recreate the drug and design new variants and has made it 100 times more powerful than that obtained from the tree. The AIDS Research Alliance (ARA), a Los Angeles nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for AIDS, is developing prostratin. Dr. Stephen Brown, medical director of ARA, stated that the organization was two thirds of the way through necessary experiments before the drug would be ready for market. Researchers had performed initial tests on animals and now were conducting tests on blood from AIDS patients who had been on immunosuppressive therapy.
Bryostatin, a compound that comes from a sea creature called bryozoa, also has healing qualities. It was discovered by Robert Pettit, a University of Arizona chemistry professor. Wender created bryostatin variants 1,000 times more powerful at flushing HIV from cells than prostratin. However, additional work is necessary before it could be considered a successful drug candidate.
The National Institutes of Health is helping to fund Wender’s research.
The study was presented before the 246th American Chemical Society National Meeting, September 8–12, in Indianapolis, Ind.