An analgesic molecule discovered in its natural state in Africa

Sep 26, 2013

A team of researchers led by Michel De Waard, Inserm Research Director at the Grenoble Institute of Neurosciences (Inserm, University Joseph Fourier, CNRS), has discovered that an African medicinal plant produces large quantities of molecules with analgesic properties.

Even more surprising, analysis show that the molecule is identical to Tramadol, a wholly synthetic medication that is used world-wide as a painkiller. According to the research team, this is the first time ever that a synthetic medication produced by the pharmaceutical industry has been discovered in strong concentrations in a natural source. This unexpected discovery had just been published in the chemical journal' Angewandte Chemie.

Nauclea latifolia (also know as the pin cushion tree) is a small shrub that is widely abundant throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. In , in particular in Cameroon, this plant is used to treat different pathologies including epilepsy, fevers, malaria and pain.

In order to identify the presence and the type of potential active substances in this plant, Michel De Waard, Inserm Research Director, organised joint scientific research with the Grenoble Institute of Neurosciences (Inserm unit 836 UJF/CEA/CHU), the Department of Molecular Pharmacological Chemistry (UMR UJF/CNRS 5063, Pr Ahcène Boumendjel) and the University of Buea (Dr. Germain Sotoing Taiwe).

Thanks to this work, the researchers were able to isolate and determine the properties of the component in the plant that was responsible for the presumed , by analysing part of the root bark. And to everyone's surprise, they found that this component was already commercially available under the name: Tramadol.

The biggest surprise in this study was the fact that this molecule was a known one. "It was identical to Tramadol, a synthetic medication developed in the seventies and often used to treat pain", explained Michel De Waard, Inserm research director. This medication is used world-wide, because although it is a derivative of morphine, it has less side effects than morphine, in particular addiction problems.

Tramadol1 is in fact a simplified form of morphine that has conserved the elements needed to produce analgesic effects.

In order to confirm their results, the researchers tested different processes with the aim of proving that the substance discovered was of natural origin. Their analyses were confirmed by three independent laboratories that had received different samples at different times of the year.

"All results converge and confirm the presence of Tramadol in the root bark of Nauclea latifolia. On the other hand, no trace of this molecule was detected in the aerial part of the shrub (leaves, trunk or branches)", explained the researcher. Finally, in order to exclude the possibility of accidental contamination of the samples by synthetic Tramadol, the researchers took samples from inside the roots themselves and thus confirmed the presence of the molecule.

From a quantitative point of view, the concentration of Tramadol in the dried bark extracts was measured at 0.4% and 3.9%. These are extremely high levels of active substance.

In addition to the unprecedented aspect of this discovery (the first ever potentially exploitable case where a hitherto synthetically produced medication has been discovered in a natural form and in high quantities), this major result opens up prospects for local populations, giving them access to a source of cheap treatment and validating the concepts of traditional medicines (as decoctions made from barks and roots).

Explore further: Seeking new methods to treat heroin addiction

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study sheds light on pain pill abuse

Sep 26, 2012

A study by a team of University of Kentucky researchers has shed new light on the potential habit-forming properties of the popular pain medication tramadol, in research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The ...

Natural pain relief from poisonous shrub

Jul 11, 2011

An extract of the poisonous shrub Jatropha curcas acts as a strong painkiller and may have a mode of action different from conventional analgesics, such as morphine and other pharmaceuticals. Details of tests are reported in the ...

Seeking new methods to treat heroin addiction

Sep 26, 2013

"Heroin itself is an inactive substance," explains Jørg Mørland, Norwegian forensic medicine and toxicology researcher. "The substances that heroin forms in the body are mainly what enter the brain and cause the narcotic ...

Codeine could increase users' sensitivity to pain

Sep 12, 2013

Using large and frequent doses of the pain-killer codeine may actually produce heightened sensitivity to pain, without the same level of relief offered by morphine, according to new research from the University of Adelaide.

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

Apr 16, 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

A beautiful, peculiar molecule

Apr 16, 2014

"Carbon is peculiar," said Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto. "More peculiar than you think." He was speaking to a standing-room-only audience that filled the Raytheon Amphitheater on Monday afternoon for the ...

Metals go from strength to strength

Apr 15, 2014

To the human hand, metal feels hard, but at the nanoscale it is surprisingly malleable. Push a lump of metal with brute force through a right-angle mould or die, and while it might look much the same to the ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...