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Could onions hold the key to new tuberculosis drugs?

Tuesday 23rd January 2018
The Persian shallot contains natural molecules that have shown potential in tackling the TB virus. Image: Artverau via iStock
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A specific type of onion could hold the key to the development of new drugs to tackle tuberculosis (TB).

According to research carried out by scientists from University College London (UCL) and Birkbeck, University of London, the Persian shallot may naturally contain molecules that are able to fight the TB virus, which has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics over the years.

The researchers tested four different molecules found in the shallots for their effects on the virus and it was found that all four were able to successfully reduce the level of bacteria in viral cells. One of the shallot molecules even managed to reduce the presence of bacteria by 99.9 per cent.

This therefore suggests that including these molecules in new drugs designed to tackle TB could potentially lead to new effective medications for the disease, which currently affects ten million people across the globe each year. In 2016 alone, some two million people died from the condition worldwide.

Study co-author Dr Sanjib Bhakta explained that the shallot molecules significantly restricted the properties of the TB virus, preventing it from spreading. As a result, there is potential for these molecules to be used alongside existing treatments for the disease to boost their effectiveness.

What's more, there is a possibility that similar plants or vegetables could also hold the key to fighting disease - something that would be welcome in light of the ongoing fight against growing antibiotic resistance. Just a few months ago, England's chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies called on global leaders to step up their actions in tackling this issue.

Professor Simon Gibbons, head of the department of pharmaceutical and biological chemistry at UCL and another of the study's authors, commented: "Natural products from plants and microbes have enormous potential as a source of new antibiotics.

"Nature is an amazingly creative chemist and it is likely that plants such as the Persian shallot produce these chemicals as a defence against microbes in their environment."

Written by James Puckle

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