Kola vs. Ebolaby Josie Glausiusz DISCOVER Vol. 21 No. 2 (February 2000)
Chewing on the seeds of the bitter kola tree, a common pastime among West African men, is rumored to cure sexual dysfunction. That could account for the popularity of the seeds, or maybe it's because gnawing on them is also said to alleviate flu symptoms. The latter clue led researchers at the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme to investigate whether the seeds of the Garcinia kola tree might ward off viral diseases. In fact, it may do something even more notable.
In lab tests, the scientists found that extracts of bitter kola halt replication of the Ebola virus, the horrifying African scourge whose victims frequently bleed to death. "Nothing before has been known to arrest the development of this virus," says executive director Maurice Iwu of the nonprofit BDCP, with headquarters in Nsukka, Nigeria. "We are really surprised." Unfortunately, testing in humans will have to await the arrival of the next outbreak-and more money for drug development. "Our limiting factor is funds," says Iwu. "If we have a sponsor, we can do it in no time."