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AIDS drug from sunflowers

working at the caesar research centre. 'It is one of the few substances known today which inhibit viral integrase ?this is an enzyme which is essential if the pathogen is to reproduce.' In contrast to other enzymes medical experts expect there to be only a few side-effects from such integrase inhibitors. In the pharmaceuticals industry they are therefore seen as the great white hope for a completely new class of AIDS drugs. Initial clinical tests seem to confirm DCQA's potential.

'We need these substances to expand our arsenal of effective weapons against the disease,' Dr. Esther Vogt of the Immunological Out-Patient Service of Bonn University Clinic adds. 'It remains to be seen, however, whether they will prove to be as effective in clinical practice as they seem to be at present.'

DCQA occurs in the artichoke and wild chicory, though in extremely small doses. The market price is therefore currently ?,000 per milligram. 'We want to attempt to cultivate sunflower cells or other plant cells in a nutrient solution together with the mould sclerotinia sclerotiorum and then obtain the enzyme from the liquid,' CEMBIO researcher Ralf Theisen says. 'If things go according to plan, we could produce DCQA at a substantially reduced cost.'

From the ceiling of Ralf Theisen's office hangs the model of a Maxus rocket. As a botanist he is actually doing research on how plants react to gravity, and therefore recently sent some of his test objects into space in a rocket like that. 'We are investigating which genes plants switch on and off under particular gravity conditions,' he explains. 'However, with the methods we use we can also, for example, find out which genes the sunflowers activate when they produce DCQA in reaction to a fungus infection.'

This knowledge would make mass production of DCQA a distinct possibility. Even now chemists can 'copy' the substance, albeit only with great difficulty. 'The tricky bit is transferring the caffeoyl groups
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Source:University of Bonn


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