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AIDS drug from sunflowers

Sunflowers can produce a substance which prevents the AIDS pathogen HIV from reproducing, at least in cell cultures. This is the result of research carried out by scientists at the University of Bonn in cooperation with the caesar research centre. For several years now the hopes for a completely new group of AIDS drugs have been pinned to what is known as 'DCQA'. However, the substance is only available in very small quantities and is thus extremely expensive. By using the Bonn method it could probably be produced for a fraction of the costs. The researchers have patented their method. Together with the Jülich Research Centre they now want to attempt to manufacture the substance on a large scale. They are looking for partners in industry to help them with this.

It all began with a small mould with the tongue-twisting name sclerotinia sclerotiorum. The pathogen responsible for the dreaded 'white stem rot' can, if the weather conditions are unfavourable, destroy an entire sunflower crop. However, some sunflowers survive the fungus attack more or less unscathed. They do this by producing specific antibodies which eventually put a stop to the fungus.

The agricultural engineer Claudio Cerboncini wanted to find out what chemical weapons the fungus-resistant sunflowers have at their disposal. In his PhD thesis for Professor Heide Schnabl of the Bonn Centre of Molecular Biotechnology (CEMBIO) Claudio infected different types with their sworn enemy. In this way he was able to isolate the antitoxins which the plants produce in response to the fungus. Among these was a substance which is also mentioned in the literature, albeit in a completely different context: this is dicaffeoyl quinic acid, or DCQA for short ?the highly prized prototype for a new group of AIDS drugs.

One million euros per gram

'Dicaffeoyl quinic acid can prevent the HI virus from reproducing, at least in cell cultures,' explains Claudio Cerboncini, who is now
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Source:University of Bonn


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