Using traditional remedies to inspire modern medicines

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California pink glowworm (Microphotus angustus)

In some cultures, the glowing of a lightning bug is thought be the cause of leishmaniasis. Shown here, a California pink glowworm (Microphotus angustus) by Ken-ichi Ueda licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Reviewing literature on traditional remedies for leishmaniasis in Amazonia, this study attempts to understand the mechanisms underlying plant selection from a cultural perspective, while at the same time identifying plants with potential medicinal properties for pharmacological studies.

The researchers identify 34 different cultural groups each with their own local names and conceived etiologies of the disease. In one community, the glow of a lightning bug is believed to be the cause, while others point to the consumption of poisonous animals. Treatments vary but all relate to the local perception of the disease, which also affects the selection of plant remedies. In one group, remedies based on fast-growing plants are used when disease progression is quick, and vice versa.

Using GBIF-mediated occurrences, the researchers classify the identified plant species, and find that preferred traditional antileishmanials are native to Amazonia, but often wild. Through phytochemical and pharmacological review, the study surveys the medicinal properties of the species, providing candidates for potential therapeutic trials.

Citation information 

Odonne G, Houël E, Bourdy G and Stien D (2017) Treating leishmaniasis in Amazonia: A review of ethnomedicinal concepts and pharmaco-chemical analysis of traditional treatments to inspire modern phytotherapies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Elsevier BV 199: 211–230. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2017.01.048.