Dengue, Medicines

Dengue is one of the most underrated diseases around.  Each year between 50 to 528 million people are infected by and almost 10,000 to 20,000  of the number die after the disease complicates. Sure, statistics would say that the number of fatalities is pretty low as compared to the number of people infected, however, it is rather sad that with all our progress in science and medicine — we are letting mosquitoes screw us over.

What is even more strange, is the fact that there is no concrete known cure for the disease either. Usually, a combination of bed rest and a slew of drugs targeted towards the symptoms of the disease is prescribed however, it has proved notoriously difficult to develop a cure for the disease itself. Well, that may be about to change thanks to Dr Navin Khanna, who has been working at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) since the past 17 years — all to develop a cure for the disease.

Working alongside researchers from Ranbaxy (acquired by SunPharma), the team from the ICGEB has managed acquire an international patent on what is the world’s first drug to combat dengue. In an interview with the Times Of India, Dr. Navin Khanna touched upon the various aspects of his research, and how the urge to find a cure for Dengue led him into Ayurveda.

On being asked a question that often strikes the mind of someone who is a novice to the field of medicine — that is, why has a cure for Dengue, which was recognized in its present form well over 8 decades ago, been found only now, Dr. Khanna said:

This virus is a master of deception and very difficult to pin down. It has remarkable survival skills. To start with, it has four serotypes (distinctive surface structures). Each type has more than five different genotypes (what lies within). And each genotype has been found, as recently as 10 months ago, to change into four different shapes. All this elaborate charade is to mask its true identity and evade the body’s immunological response.

What’s more, while being afflicted by one of the strains makes your body immune against it, you can still get Dengue (and even develop serious complications) from one of the other strains. This is one of the reasons that have made the cure for this virus so hard to pinpoint.

Meanwhile, after a failure of most conventional methods, Dr. Khanna and his team turned to Ayurveda and shortlisted 19 plant extracts such as neem, aloe and basil that held promise of providing relief against dengue symptoms. After intensive research that apanned over 5 years, the team hit upon Cissampelos pareira (also known as patha and abuta in Hindi and English respectively) as their best bet. Not only did the extract provide relief against Dengue symptoms, but it also proved to be non-toxic to humans.

Upon being queried about how far the development process was, Dr. Khanna said:

We are awaiting clinical trials on humans, and it will take a few years to complete those. Since it is non-toxic there’s no risk involved. In fact, I tried it on myself when I got dengue. I boiled the leaves of the plant and drank the extract, twice a day for three days. And I got better. Later my daughter also got dengue and I successfully repeated the treatment on her.

The advantage of using botanical drugs as opposed to chemical ones as per Dr. Khanna, lies in the fact that the latter are made up of complex molecules that are harder for viruses to develop a resistance against. Compare it with chemical drugs that are mostly highly pure single molecules, and pathogens and viruses can evolve to develop immunity against those fairly quickly.

Meanwhile, Dr. Khanna’s work is certainly exemplary and is a message to other researchers across the nation, to use their brains and resources to develop solutions that can benefit mankind as a whole. It is also a call to return to our roots and seek wisdom there — as the discovery of the Dengue medicine Cipa proves, you could well be surprised by what you find.

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