It's bright and beautiful flowers bring a splash of colour to gardens all over Britain. But it seems the hydrangea is more than just a pretty bloom.
A drug made from its roots could be used to treat a raft of common diseases, researchers say.
The colourful shrub - a staple of Chinese medicine - has the power to 'revolutionise' the treatment of multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and some forms of diabetes and arthritis, scientists claimed yesterday. These diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body. Existing treatments are expensive, have to be injected, and do not address the biological cause of the problem.
Powerful drugs which suppress the immune system can be used as a last resort but leave patients at risk of infections and other serious side-effects. Now it appears that a medicine derived from the hydrangea's root could offer an alternative. Experiments found that it blocked the formation of a type of white blood cell involved in autoimmune disease.
Crucially, the drug does not seem to affect other kinds of cell vital to the body's defences - meaning it does not otherwise inhibit the immune system. Mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease were far less severely affected when given low doses of the hydrangea-based drug, which is called halofuginone, the journal Science reported. Halofuginone is already used to treat a rare autoimmune disease which affects the skin and internal organs.