An alternative paradigm for the role of antimalarial plants in Africa. Scientific World Journal. April 2012. Maranz S.
David H. Murdock Research Institute.
Most investigations into the antimalarial activity of African plants are centered on finding an indigenous equivalent to artemisinin, the compound from which current frontline antimalarial drugs are synthesized. As a consequence, the standard practice in ethnopharmacological research is to use in vitro assays to identify compounds that inhibit parasites at nanomolar concentrations. This approach fails to take into consideration the high probability of acquisition of resistance to parasiticidal compounds since parasite populations are placed under direct selection for genetic that confers a survival advantage. Bearing in mind Africa’s long exposure to malaria and extensive ethnobotanical experimentation with both therapies and diet, it is more likely that compounds not readily overcome by Plasmodium parasites would have been retained in the pharmacopeia and cuisine. Such compounds are characterized by acting primarily on the host rather than directly targeting the parasite and thus cannot be adequately explored in vitro. If Africa’s long history with malaria has in fact produced effective plant therapies, their scientific elucidation will require a major emphasis on in vivo investigation.