A protein isolated from hyacinth beans, a medicinal herb known for centuries, has been found to restrict the activities of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses in laboratory experiments, a team of Academia Sinica researchers said yesterday.
The beans’ curative effect is documented in the 16th-century Chinese medicine classic Compendium of Materia Medica (本草綱目) and they are also a food source in some countries, the Genomics Research Center’s Chemical Biology Division Director Alex Ma (馬徹) told a news conference in Taipei.
Center senior research specialist Jan Jia-tsrong (詹家琮) experimented with up to 500 medicinal herbs to see if they could restrict influenza viruses and found the extracts of hyacinth beans to be the most effective, Ma said.
The researchers have since 2016 been working to identify the plant’s critical ingredient that has anti-virus effect and found it to be flt3-receptor interacting lectin (FRIL), a protein extracted from the plant’s beans, he said.
“Previous studies suggested FRIL could foster the growth of stem cells. We are surprised to find it could also restrict virus growth,” Ma said, adding that the team’s paper is the world’s first to confirm the protein’s antivirus effect.
Shaped like a tetrapod wave breaker, FRIL can bind to glycoproteins on the envelopes of influenza viruses and coronaviruses with its protruding points, he said.
The hemagglutinin protein on the surface of influenza viruses and on coronavirus spikes mediate the virus’ entry into the cell, he added.
In laboratory experiments, nearly 70 percent of laboratory mice that had received intranasal administration of FRIL survived the deadly H1N1 influenza virus strain, while those without the protection died in eight days, Ma said.
The protein is effective in curbing infections of 11 influenza strains, he added.
From April, the researchers also applied FRIL on cells infected by the coronavirus strain hCoV-19/Taiwan/NTU04/2020, provided by National Taiwan University and the Centers for Disease Control, and the protein effectively neutralized the virus, Ma said.
Experiments on laboratory mice using FRIL to treat coronavirus infections are not yet concluded, he said.
Despite the exciting results, Ma said there is still a long way to go before the findings could be used in clinical practices.
Their study, titled “A carbohydrate-binding protein from the edible Lablab beans effectively blocks the infections of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2” was published in the journal Cell Reports last week.
Former Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠), Academia Sinica Cryo-EM Center Co-director Ho Meng-chiao (何孟樵) and research scientist Wu Yi-min (吳逸民) also contributed to the paper.
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