Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi, and The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, have identified Phytochemicals in the petals of a Himalayan plant that could potentially be used to treat COVID-19 infections.
The findings of the research team have been recently published in the journal Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics.
The petals of the Himalayan Buransh plant, scientifically called Rhododendron arboreum, are consumed in various forms by the local population for their varied health benefits. The scientists from IIT Mandi and ICGEB set out to scientifically test the extracts containing various phytochemicals in it, with a particular focus on antiviral activity. The researchers extracted the phytochemicals from the Buransh petals and performed biochemical assays and computational simulation studies to understand their antiviral properties.
Hot water extracts from these petals were found to be 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 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.
Dr Sujatha Sunil, Vector Borne Disease Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, says, “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.”
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.