Herbal remedies have been used for centuries to stave off the effects of disease. Now, researchers are applying the modern-day tools of science to understand how these remedies may be acting.
One traditional remedy under investigation is the root of the Baikal skullcap, a flowering plant in the mint family also known as huáng qín.
|The Baikal skullcap|
Chinese herbologists traditionally use the root to treat a number of problems including stroke and heart disease. A research team led by Wei Wen, Ph.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, recently studied the molecular effects of the root and its chief component, baicalin.
Working in the laboratory, the researchers exposed different cell types, both normal and cancerous, to root extract as well as pure baicalin. They found the cells produced higher levels of a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF.
VEGF promotes blood vessel formation. It’s also the target of several drugs that aim to choke off the blood supply to tumors.
The researchers additionally found that both baicalin and the root extract could stimulate the formation of blood vessel “sprouts” in a lab dish, further suggesting they might boost blood vessel formation.
“Our results not only provide evidence that this traditional herbal medicine has real activity, but they also point to a mechanism behind that activity,” said Wen.
Wen, who focuses much of her research on identifying natural compounds with potential therapeutic benefit, hopes that baicalin might be useful for treating heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. She remains cautious, however, since the study also suggests the compound could be harmful for some cancer patients.
“Certainly more research is needed before we draw any firm conclusions about clinical benefit,” she said.