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May 5, 2021

WPI professor researching natural COVID-19 therapy

File Photo WPI's campus

A team of researchers including Worcester Polytechnic Institute Biology Professor Pamela Weathers has found that extracts from a medicinal herb known as sweet wormwood can inhibit the COVID-19 virus and two of its recent variants.

The team, which includes researchers from Columbia University in New York and the University of Washington at Seattle, tested extracts from the Artemisia annua plant against SARS-CoV-2 and two variants originating from the United Kingdom and South Africa. Leaf samples up to 12 years old were found to still be potent against the virus, WPI announced in a press release, possibly pointing to a safe, low-cost treatment for the coronavirus.

Results showed the extracts of Artemisia annua did not block the virus from entering cells but interfered with the virus’ ability to replicate, thus killing it. Researchers are still unclear as to the exact substance that disrupted the virus -- when artemisinin, a key therapeutic compound in the plant, was tested alone against the viruses, the plant extracts were found to be more potent.

More work is needed to identify the compound or combination of compounds in A. annua responsible for inhibiting viral replication, according to the release.

“These findings add to evidence emerging from other labs around the world that this plant possesses compounds that could help patients who are infected with COVID-19,” Weathers said in the release.

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