ARLINGTON - A natural additive used to make foam
in soft drinks also may help prevent the sometimes-deadly rotavirus infection in
children or reduce its severity, a University of Texas at Arlington biology
professor says in a research paper to be published in June.
Chilean soapbark tree
The paper co-authored by
associate professor Michael Roner, “Characterization of in vivo anti-rotavirus
activities of saponin extracts from Quillaja Saponaria Molina,” is already
on the website of Antiviral Research, the official publication of the
International Society for Antiviral Research. Roner joined the College of Science faculty in 2002.
Rotavirus is the leading cause
of severe, dehydrating diarrhea in newborns and young children worldwide, with
more than 500,000 children under five dying each year, according to the World
Health Organization’s rotavirus program. About 85 percent of the deaths happen
in developing countries, where current vaccines are not widely available.
In the paper, Roner and co-author
Ka Ian Tam, who earned her doctorate from UT Arlington in August 2010, say
there is strong evidence that extracts from the soapbark tree are able to block
the rotavirus by disrupting its interaction with target cells. Tam now works
for the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s Rotavirus Surveillance Team.
“Current vaccines are impossible
to afford in the majority of countries where children are dying because of
rotavirus,” said Roner, adding that each dose can cost $50 to $100 and two to
three doses are needed per child. “If our research can prove that extracts from
the soapbark tree prevent infection, it could be inexpensively added to the
water or milk these children drink and do the exact same thing as a vaccine.”
The research was funded by a
$222,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Saponins are a type of molecule
found in more than 500 plant species. Because of their ability to form
insoluble complexes with cholesterol, they have been used in a wide range of
biological applications, including cholesterol lowering, antitumor and
Roner and Tam used saponin
molecules extracted in fluid form from the Chilean soapbark tree, called Quillaja
Saponaria, for their study. By treating
mice with a dose of the extract, they were able to reduce diarrhea induced by exposure
to the rhesus rotavirus from 79 percent to 11 percent of the subjects.
Roner's investigation of a less expensive option to current rotavirus vaccines
is a prime example of how scientists' work in the laboratory could have wide-ranging
implications," said Pamela Jansma, dean of UT Arlington’s College of
Science. "Success in this work doesn't just improve people's lives; it
Roner said the results warrant further testing. One
area he would like to explore is whether the saponin treatment, while greatly
reducing diarrhea, might also allow a small amount of infection and, perhaps,
trigger an immune response. Such a response could produce antibodies that
protect individuals from future infection.
“These saponins are a renewable,
natural product already approved for use in humans as a food additive,” Roner
said. “We believe they have great potential to prevent severe rotavirus
infections in humans at a very affordable cost.”
Roner’s work with
retrovirus is representative of the scientific discovery underway at The
University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of
33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu
to learn more.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.