The petals of the flower from Himalayan Buransh plant, traditionally consumed by local population for its health benefits, may contain the cure to Covid-19 viral infection, scientists say.
Studies carried out by a team of Indian researchers suggest that phytochemicals extracted from the flower petals of the Buransh plant, scientifically called Rhododendron arboreum, have two kinds of effects against the virus. It can get bound to the enzyme that plays an important role in viral replication and to the human angiotensin to make the viral entry into the host cells difficult. Further research is needed to identify bioactive drug candidates that can be commercialised if proven effective in clinical trials.
“Among the different types of therapeutic agents being studied, phytochemicals – chemicals derived from plants – are considered particularly promising because of their synergistic activity and natural source with fewer toxicity issues. We are hunting for promising molecules from the Himalayan flora using multi-disciplinary approaches,” Shyam Kumar Masakapalli, associate professor, BioXCentre, School of Basic Science, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi, said.
The research is carried out by a team of scientists from IIT Mandi and The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi. The findings of the research team have been recently published in the journal Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics.
“We have profiled and investigated the phytochemicals of Rhododendron arboreum petals sourced from Himalayan flora and have found it to be a promising candidate against the Covid-19 virus,” Ranjan Nanda, Translational Health Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, said.
The researchers extracted the phytochemicals from the Buransh petals and performed biochemical assays and computational simulation studies to understand its antiviral properties. They found that hot water extracts from these petals were 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.
The researchers also showed through experimental assays that non-toxic doses of the petal extracts can inhibit Covid-19 infection in Vero E6 cells (cells derived from kidney of an African green monkey that are commonly used to study infectivity of virus and bacteria), without any adverse effects on the cells themselves.
“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,” Sujatha Sunil, Vector Borne Disease Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, said.
The findings support the urgent need for further scientific studies aimed at finding specific bioactive drug candidates from R. arboreum, in vivo and clinical trials against Covid-19. The research team also plans to carry out additional studies to understand the precise mechanism of inhibition of Covid-19 replication by specific phytochemicals from Buransh petals.