"So, when my mom or grandma say they will give me this tea and it will make me feel better, someone comes and says:" Oh, that was just hocus-pocus, I'm giving you some real medicine "What's the difference?" Asked Baum, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London.
"We've found that the difference is proof that if you take a natural remedy and test it and it works, it's now also a drug," Baum said. "So we came up with the soup project and asked children to bring the traditional soup that their family would do if they did not feel well."
Sixty soups have arrived, all incredibly diverse. The elementary school for children in Eden, visited by Braum's son Gilly and his daughter Rudy, is aimed at families from all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
All should be vegetarian soups, meat soups, or broth-based chicken soups, which the family had passed down through generations for their recreational properties.
"Kids bought the lumpiest soups, though we told them not to," Baum said. "The idea was to get a clear excerpt from it."
In collaboration with the children, Baum managed to filter 56 of the soups, which he returned to the lab to test their medicinal properties.
A Deadly Parasite
What would the test be? Why, of course, malaria, because that is the life's work of tree. He and his team from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College are studying the deadliest malaria parasite, P. falciparum, which accounts for 99% of all malaria deaths.
Every year, nearly half a million children die from malaria, which is transmitted by infected mosquitoes, Baum said. Most are younger than five years.
"We are currently at a kind of crossroads in global malaria control," said Baum. "We have made decades of progress in reducing the number of deaths since the turn of the millennium, but we have come to a point where we have stopped our progress, and there are some worrying signs of drug resistance emergence as if you had one Antibiotic resistance to bacteria. "
Even antimalarial drugs known as artemisinin-based combination therapies or ACT are gradually losing their efficacy as the parasite develops resistance.
"Malaria parasite is one of the ancient parasites," said Baum. "It's a very complicated creature: it can change its shape, it can change its biology, and that makes it harder to develop new drugs and therapeutics."
A Surprising Result
At first, Baum and his team did not plan to perform all 56 tests. After all, nobody expected that a soup would kill a malaria parasite.
"We thought we would just try," said Baum. "And we were pretty surprised that some of the soups had a really good activity against the parasite."
In fact, five of the 56 soups blocked parasite growth in the human blood stage by about 50%; two of them were as effective as a leading malaria drug, didydroartemisinin. Four more broths inhibited the sexual development of the male parasite by about 50%.
"One of the soups that was most effective was a vegetarian soup with a fermented one Cabbage base, "said Baum. "And you know, people sing the praises of kimchi and other fermented cabbages, maybe there's something in it."
Baum published the results of the soup project on Monday in the journal BMJ. Will he discover the antimalarials in the soups? No, this project is for others, he said.
"There are a lot of people working to test purified natural products that are derived from plants, from traditional remedies, and sometimes you come across something that really works," Baum said.
One of the challenges is that plants produce extremely complex molecules that science is unable to synthesize, let alone deliver in the massive scale required to combat worldwide malaria transmission.
"But that should not stop us from looking," said Baum, pointing to his simple elementary school experiment.
"It just shows that drugs may still have to be discovered, and we should not turn our eyes to traditional medicine just because it has not been tested."