What is Triptolide?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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Triptolide is a pharmaceutically active compound extracted from Tripterygium wilfordii, a plant with a history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. The thunder god vine, as it is known, has been used to treat inflammation and irritation. As of 2011, triptolide was still under investigation as a pharmaceutical product of interest, reflecting a growing interest in learning more about traditional herbal remedies for the purpose of seeing how effective they are and determining if they have useful clinical applications.

This compound appears to have a suppressive effect on the immune system in large doses, and it inhibits the development and spread of inflammation. Studies on triptolide have also shown that it has anti-tumor properties, inducing cell death in cancerous cells, making it potentially useful in the treatment of cancers. Finding medications for shrinking or stopping tumors is an important aspect of providing treatment for cancer patients with tumors too large, involved, or scattered to be treatable with surgery.

In addition to being of interest to cancer researchers, triptolide was also fingered as a drug with potential uses for the treatment of polycystic kidney disease. This condition is a common cause of kidney failure around the world, and it stubbornly resists treatment. Studies showed triptolide might be applicable for the management of this common kidney problem. In addition, the compound appears to inhibit male fertility, making it a potential target for development by pharmaceutical researchers interested in creating an oral contraceptive pill for men.


Research on biological agents is a complicated and lengthy process. First, active ingredients must be isolated and studied to learn more about their chemical structure. Then, they can be experimented with using cells in culture to see how they behave with cells, looking for obvious signs of problems like severe cell toxicity for normal cells. If the compounds still appear valuable, trials in animals can begin to see if they have treatment applications, and these trials will eventually be expanded to the human population. Drug development can take decades and often comes with more disappointments than successes. Triptolide is one among many active ingredients isolated from Chinese herbal ingredients for the purpose of further research and study.

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