"So if my mom or grandmother says they'll give me this tea and make me better, and somebody comes along saying, 'Oh, that was just a focus-focus, I'll give you a real cure, & # 39; what's the difference? "asked Baum, a professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London.
"We have decided that the difference is proof: If you take a natural medicine and test it and it works, it is now a medicine," Baum said. "So we came across a soup project. We asked the children to bring a traditional soup to make their family when someone is not feeling well. "
Sixty soups arrived, all incredibly varied. Elementary school children in Eden, attended by Braum's son, Ilili and daughter Rudy, are attracting families from all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
They were all supposed to be vegetarian soup, meat or chicken soups that the family had passed down through generations because of their restorative properties.
"The kids were buying in the most stupid soups even though we told them not to," Baum said. "The idea was to try to get some kind of clear extract from that."
Working with the children, Baum successfully filtered 56 soups, which he took to the lab to test their healing attributes.
What would be the test? Why malaria, of course, because it's Baum's work. He and his team from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College are studying the most deadly species of malaria parasite, called P. falciparum, responsible for 99% of all malaria deaths.
Each year, nearly half a million children die of malaria transmitted by infected mosquitoes, Baum said. Most are under five.
"We are currently at a kind of crossroads in global malaria control," Baum said. "We have made progress over the decades in reducing the number of deaths since the end of the millennium. But we have reached a point where we are making progress and there are some worrying signs of drug resistance, as well as antibiotic resistance. "
Even antimalarial drugs on the front, called artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACT, are beginning to lose their effectiveness as the parasite evolves resistance.
"The malaria parasite is one of the very ancient parasites," Baum said. "It's a very complicated being: it can change its form, it can change its biology and it makes it difficult to develop new drugs and new therapists."
Initially Baum and his team did not plan to perform all 56 tests; after all, no one expected soup to kill malaria parasite.
"We thought we would just give it a go," Baum said. "And, we were quite surprised, some soups had really good activity against the parasite."
In fact, five of the 56 soups blocked parasite growth in the human bloodstream by about 50%; two of them were just as effective as the leading antimalarial, diodeotrimiminine. Four other soups were able to block the sexual development of the male parasite by about 50%.
"One of the soups that was most effective was a vegetarian fermented cabbage soup," Baum said. "And you know, people sing praises of kimchi and other fermented cabbage, so maybe there's something in that."
Baum published the results of a soup project on Monday in BMJ Magazine. Will he continue to discover antimalarial ingredients in soups? No, that project is for others, he said.
"There are a lot of people working on testing purified natural products derived from herbs, from traditional remedies. Every now and then you come up with something that really works, ”Baum said.
One of the challenges, he continued, is that plants make extremely complex molecules, the science yet to be synthesized, and even less to deliver on the massive scale needed to combat malaria transmission around the world.
"But that shouldn't deter us from watching," Baum said, referring to his simple elementary school experiment.
"It just shows that there may be drugs that have yet to be discovered and that we should not turn to traditional medicine just because it has not yet been tested."