16 December 2010

Stroke, brain injury treated with turmeric

by Kate Melville

Created by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a synthetic derivative of the spice turmeric has been shown to dramatically improve the behavioral and molecular deficits seen in animal models of ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In earlier, unconnected studies, turmeric was shown to act as a prostate cancer preventative.

Ischemic stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death of older people in the United States, while TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in both civilians and military personnel under the age of 45. In both conditions, those who survive frequently have serious behavioral and memory deficits. The only FDA-approved treatment for stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), which is effective only in about 20 percent of cases. There is no treatment for TBI.

The Salk researchers developed the new compound using a novel drug discovery method that begins with natural products derived from plants. Synthetic derivatives of these compounds were then examined by testing them against various aspects of the nerve cell damage and death that occur in brain injuries and in age-associated neurodegenerative diseases. One compound, called CNB-001, which was derived from curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, proved highly neuroprotective in all of the assays. Additionally, it enhanced memory in unaffected animals.

The researchers showed that CNB-001 was at least as effective as TPA in preventing the behavioral deficits caused by stroke. The study also demonstrated that unlike TPA, which reduces clotting in the blood vessels of the brain, the Salk compound has a direct protective effect on nerve cells within the brain. Researcher Pamela Maher noted that it maintains specific cell signaling pathways required for nerve cell survival.

Similarly, in a separate study, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, used a rodent model of TBI to demonstrate that CNB-001 dramatically reversed the behavioral deficits in both locomotion and memory that accompany the brain injury. As with stroke, CNB-001 was again found to maintain the critical signaling pathways required for nerve cell survival, as well as the connections between nerve cells that are lost with the injury.

The results of these two studies suggest that the compound has clinical potential for other neurological conditions where there is currently no effective treatment. "Existing drug therapies for complex neurological conditions such as stroke and Alzheimer's disease target only one aspect of the condition, while in fact many different factors contribute to the pathology," observes Salk's David Schubert. "In the drug discovery program our lab uses at Salk, drug candidates must show efficacy in tissue culture models of several aspects of the condition before they are introduced into animal models. We believe that this approach is making an important difference in the discovery of effective drugs."

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Source: Salk Institute for Biological Studies