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Sunflowers Could Hold the Key to New Class of AIDS Drugs

Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany have come up with what could be a potential AIDS drug. They have found that a substance present in sunflowers prevents // the AIDS virus from replicating in cell cultures. It is not yet known if this would also apply to the actual disease.

The substance called as 'DCQA' has been the sole hope of producing a new class of AIDS drugs. But this is available in very minute quantities and naturally is pretty costly. The researchers from Bonn worked in collaboration with the Caesar research centre to make this substance available at a fraction of the earlier costs. The attempt to find the substance in sunflowers started with a mould called sclerotinia sclerotiorum. It was found that some varieties of sunflower were resistant to a disease called "white stem rot' that destroys the crops. Agricultural engineer Claudio Cerboncini proceeded to isolate the substance that confers protection on the sunflowers that are resistant to this fungal disease. The substance was dicaffeoyl quinic acid, or DCQA. "Dicaffeoyl quinic acid can prevent the HI virus from reproducing, at least in cell cultures," said Claudio Cerboncini.

"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." Preliminary clinical tests have now borne out the hope that DCQA could herald in a new class of AIDS drugs. Dr. Esther Vogt of the Immunological Out-Patient Service of Bonn University Clinic, said, "We need these substances to expand our arsenal of effective weapons against the disease. It remains to be seen, however, whether they will prove to be as effective in clinical practice as they seem to be at present." The University of Bonn researchers have teamed up with Jülich Research Centre to see if they can manufacture this substance on a large scale.

Dr. Ralf Theisen
University of Bonn


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