Can this Himalayan flower help fight against COVID-19? IIT study underway

Written By: Sidharth MP WION
Chennai Updated: Jan 17, 2022, 08:39 PM(IST)

A potential Covid cure Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

According to researchers at IIT-Mandi, the petals of the commonly available plant ‘Himalayan Buransh’ (rhododendron arboreum) have properties to inhibit the replication of COVID-19.

A routine work to document phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants that help them fight fungi, virus and prevent consumption by animals) in Himalayan plants has led the Indian researchers to an interesting find.

According to researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mandi, the petals of the commonly available plant ‘Himalayan Buransh’ (rhododendron arboreum) have properties to inhibit the replication of COVID-19.

This was proven in an experiment that was performed on COVID-19 infected vero E6 cells (cells from the kidney of an African monkey that are commonly used to study the infectivity of bacteria and virus).

WION spoke to the researchers of this study to understand its ramifications that potentially emerge as a cure or medicine against the Coronavirus. 

According to Dr Shyam Kumar Masakapalli, associate professor, BioX Centre, School of Basic Science, IIT Mandi, their team has been carrying out work to understand the Himalayan flora, including rare, endangered, aromatic and medicinal plants since 2019.

Their end goal was to establish a Himalayan Phytochemical Library that would help understand the plant-derived compounds to help fight specific diseases.

With the pandemic having struck in 2020, they expedited their work to find plant-derived medicinal properties against COVID-19 infection. 

It is said to be the first time that the properties of Himalayan Buransh petals are being studied, even though the petals have been a local delicacy for ages.

While the leaves are toxic for consumption, the petals are as condiments. It is also sold as squash that is meant to be a coolant during summers. It was by extracting phytochemicals from these petals that computational and biochemical analyses were conducted. 

As per researchers, hot water extracts from the petals were found to be rich in quinic acid and its derivatives.

“Molecular dynamics studies showed that these phytochemicals have two kinds of effects against the virus. They bound to the main protease – an enzyme that plays an important role in viral replication - and to the Human Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme-2 (ACE2) that mediates viral entry into the host cells”. 

Explaining how the test was conducted, Dr Shyam Kumar said the cells derived from the monkey liver were first allowed to be attacked by the COVID-19 virus, following which some cells died and the virus multiplied.

But upon adding the plant-derived compound (in different quantities), the viral load came down and virus impact was inhibited by up to 80 percent. 

Dr Sujatha Sunil, Vector Borne Disease Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, said, “A combination of the phytochemical profiling, computer simulations and in vitro anti-viral assays showed that the extracts from the Buransh petals inhibited the replication of the COVID-19 virus in a dose-dependent manner.”

However, there remains up to a year of work before it can be clearly proven if a cure (in tablet or spray form) against COVID-19 can be derived from this compound. This process includes further studies, experiments and clinical trials.

Read in App