Drug from curry spice may help stroke recoveryProvides protection to vulnerable brain cells
A new drug derived from a component of the spice turmeric could protect brain cells in the event of a stroke, and even help them to recover after an attack.
Curcumin is a chemical found in turmeric, a golden-coloured spice used in curries and other dishes. It has previously been studied as a potential treatment for brain injury and disease, but until now it has suffered from a number of limitations.
For instance, the body absorbs it too slowly to be effective in the case of a stroke, and it does not reach the affected areas of the brain in sufficient amounts to provide any benefit. Also the body's own defence mechanisms prevent it from getting to the brain where it is needed.
Now scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have isolated a new compound from curcumin which - in laboratory experiments - can affect the mechanisms that protect and help brain cell regeneration after stroke.
At present, stroke is typically treated with a "clot busting" drug which helps dissolve blood clots, allowing blood to flow back to the brain. It is this blockage by blood clots, causing oxygen deprivation to the brain, that results in damage after stroke. If the drug is administered quickly enough after the stroke, the harm may be reduced.
The new curcumin-hybrid compound, CNB-001, does not attack blood clots but instead repairs stroke damage at the molecular level that feed and support the all-important brain cells, neurons.
Lead scientist Paul A. Lapchak said: "CNB-001 has many of the same benefits of curcumin but appears to be a better choice of compound for acute stroke because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, is quickly distributed in the brain, and moderates several critical mechanisms involved in neuronal survival."
When brain tissue is deprived of blood and oxygen, a cascading series of interrelated events triggers at the molecular level, breaking down the normal electrical and chemical "signaling pathways" responsible for nourishing and supporting neurons. The environment quickly becomes toxic, killing brain cells and destroying their support structures.
To treat this effect a range of different drugs will be needed. The new drug affects four of these pathways, repairing them and thus preventing long-term damage. In the experiments the drug reduced stroke-caused "motor deficits" - problems of muscle and movement control - and the outcome suggests this would be effective up to three hours after a stroke, which is the same time frame in which clot busting drugs can be used.
Around 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK every year. Stroke is also the third biggest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, and the single largest cause of adult disability.
Dr Sharlin Ahmed, research liaison officer at the Stroke Association, said: “When a stroke strikes, the brain is starved of oxygen causing brain cells to die or be damaged. There is a great need for new treatments which can protect brain cells after a stroke and improve recovery.
"The spice turmeric is known to have many health benefits; yet this is the first significant research to show that it could be beneficial to stroke patients by encouraging new cells to grow and preventing cell death after a stroke.
"The results look promising, however it is still very early days and human trials need to be undertaken.”
The study findings were presented at the 2011 American Heart Association International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.
This article was published on Thu 10 February 2011
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