The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Eighteenth in a series - Q is for Quinine
Quinine holds a special place in science history as the first chemical compound ever used successfully against infectious disease. During the American Civil War, its importance in treating malaria led to the first large-scale drug manufacturing operations and the first federal drug-testing program.
Quinine is derived from the bark of the Cinchona tree, an evergreen native to the Andes tropical forests, by isolating it from the bark through a process that also crystalizes its alkaloids— which are naturally occurring organic compounds with a nitrogen base. Quinine has healed the sick from kings to the poorest infant, and enabled armies over the centuries to maintain troop vigor and achieve military conquests.
In use since the 1600s, many chemists starting in the 18th century studied quinine to understand its properties, and worked to determine how it might be reinvented in a laboratory for mass production as a pharmaceutical. Though they figured out its molecular structure, and ultimately, in the 1940s, how to synthesize it from coal tar, the vast research led to better chemical discoveries for malaria treatment, though quinine still is used.
Today, biotechnology plays a large role in synthesizing and producing alkaloids for commercial use on an industrial scale. The discoveries of biotech and molecular biology make it convenient to transfer and propagate genes in plant cells, among other processes, to commercially produce alkaloid related drugs.
An aside: This webpage explains how to make a transgenic plant.
In current clinical trials, quinine is being studied “To investigate the effect of oral sham feeding and intragastric delivery of a bitter tastant on food intake.” In other words, this is research to determine whether quinine could assist obese people to eat less. It is also under study to discover how it interacts or reacts with other compounds and medicines for more effective treatments for a range of illnesses.
Despite the wonderful progress in medicinals, in 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries, an increase of 5 million cases over 2015, and malaria deaths reached 445,000 in 2016, a similar number (446,000) to 2015. In 2016, nearly half the world’s population was at risk of malaria, and the latest World Malaria Report (Nov 2017) stated there were 216 million cases in 2016, up from 211 million in 2015.
There is no vaccine against malaria, though some progress in vaccines has been reported.
The story of Elisha and the pottage made for the prophets’ families comes to mind. There was a famine in the area so the stew was made with whatever was found in the field including wild gourds. Upon eating it, the prophets’ sons cried out, “There is death in the pot!” (2Ki 4:40) So Elisha cast some meal or flour into the pot, and remedied the poisoned stew.
I am not likening quinine to the meal that was cast into the stew. Then as now, the flour is symbolic of the bread of life, Christ, who must assist to bring health back, and with His help, biotechnology can find new ways to heal. It is true, though, that Christ is a bitter flavor to many.