Potential treatment for chikungunya could be lurking in tamarind seeds: Study

The antiviral targets a sugar molecule on the virus that is critical to the process of infection.

Chikungunya is an uncommon viral infection for which there is neither treatment nor vaccine. Researchers at IIT Roorkee, however, think they may have discovered a potential treatment — a compound found in tamarind seeds.

“Since tamarind seeds are traditionally used in Ayurveda to treat many ailments and conditions, we wanted to know the molecules in the seed," Professor Pravindra Kumar, coauthor of the paper told the Hindu.

"Two (of these) proteins were found in abundance.”

Reprentational image. Image courtesy: University of Bergen

Reprentational image. Image courtesy: University of Bergen

On testing both the proteins in vitro (in a laboratory, without using any live animals), researchers were pleasantly surprised with what they found. One of the two tamarind seed proteins reduced the chances of contracting a chikungunya infection by 64 percent.

The same protein also lowered the amount of virus inside a chikungunya-infected cell by 45 percent.

The research also looked into where and how the protein interacts with the virus to be effective. They found a complex sugar molecule with an unknown function critical to the protein and virus interaction.

When the protein binds to the sugar molecule, the chikungunya virus is not able to attach to or attack the cell, researchers found.

This leaves the cell with a relatively lower risk of contracting the infection.

Representational image. Image courtesy: Labiotech

The study confirms for the first that the molecular sugar found in the outer surface of a virus has a role to play in the infection process. This molecular process of infectivity is better studied in some other viral infections like HIV and influenza.

The quick action and low dose needed to defend the cells against the virus are two attractive features of the protein.

The authors of the paper have published a paper in the journal Virology with their findings and have filed a patent for a potential composition with the antiviral protein as a chikungunya treatment.

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