Anti-arthritis cream released

Our special correspondent

New Delhi, Sept. 26: A government research laboratory in Jorhat has developed a herbal treatment for arthritis but the claim is still being eyed with scepticism by some in the scientific community.

Scientists at the North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST), Jorhat, however, said the anti-arthritic effects of the herbal extracts had been evaluated through tests on mice and clinical studies on 45 patients, suffering from both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and the results had been very positive.

Union science and technology minister Vyalar Ravi formally released the anti-arthritis formulation at the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research today.

The institute plans to manufacture the medicine on a large scale and market it as a herbal product, as reported in The Telegraph in February.

NEIST, a CSIR laboratory, has infrastructure to manufacture 1,00,000 15mg tubes of the herbal formulation per day, it's director, P. Gangadhar Rao, said.

Scientists not associated with the research, however, cautioned that the formulation is yet to be rigorously evaluated.

NEIST scientists said their studies on mice and humans had revealed the benefits of the herbal formulation "within days" after the cream was applied topically in the regions of the arthritis-affected joints. They claimed that they had also observed significant reduction in the levels of several inflammatory molecules associated with arthritis in both mice and humans.

"Patients have reported benefits within two weeks of applying the drug," Rao said. "We've also offered it to more than 3,000 patients who have reported relief from symptoms."

But the findings have not been peer-reviewed by scientific journals and one pharmacology expert said rigorous trials on a large number of patients were required to build confidence about the claim.

"We need a statistically significant number of patients for the claims of benefits to be authenticated as effects of the formulation," said Chandra Gulhati, a pharmacology expert and editor of the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities, India, an independent journal on drugs.

"The first thing to prove is that a new formulation is superior to placebo. For statistically significant results, this would typically require 50 people receiving the herbal cream and another 50 people receiving a similarly-looking formulation without the herbal ingredients," he said.

The institute put together the extracts from four plants, including eucalyptus, each of which is mentioned in classical texts of traditional medicine.

"We plan to continue these studies," Rao said. "But our data suggests that this is helpful and the plant extracts have been used in traditional medicine for centuries."

The institute has reached out to entrepreneurs who will be expected to market the formulation nationwide.