Scientists develop tool to predict effectiveness of herbs in traditional Chinese medicine


A group of Chinese and U.S. scientists have developed a tool for predicting the effectiveness of herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

About the tool: The new tool is a “network medicine framework” that predicts the effectiveness of the herbs in treating specific disease symptoms. According to the researchers, it reveals the scientific foundation of TCM and “establishes a paradigm for understanding the molecular basis of natural medicine and predicting disease treatments.”

How they developed it: The researchers first compiled a list of 20 genes associated with 174 different disease symptoms. They then mapped these links onto a model that detailed how 18,505 human body proteins interacted with each other.

The team also incorporated data on proteins targeted by over 1,200 TCM herbs. From there, they created a framework that generated scores to estimate the effectiveness of the herbs in addressing specific symptoms.

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The scores were based on the proximity of the herbs’ target proteins to proteins associated with those symptoms. The researchers then compared their predictions with herbs recognized by the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and validated their model using data from more than 1,900 patients treated at a TCM hospital in Wuhan.

What’s next: The researchers noted instances in which the tool scored highly for herbs that had been used for thousands of years to treat certain illnesses. Still, further research is needed to refine and validate its abilities.

“This work is primarily observational and theoretical science, rather than translational science, which needs to be further validated and optimized,” lead author Xiao Gan, a researcher at the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, told Live Science.

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Still, Gan acknowledged their research as “the first scientific theory to explain how a traditional medicine system works.”

The study was published in the journal Science Advances.


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