A drug derived from the curry spice turmeric may be able to help the body repair some of the damage caused in the immediate aftermath of a stroke.
Turmeric has been used for centuries as part of traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and many laboratory studies suggest one of its components, curcumin, might have various beneficial properties. However, curcumin cannot pass the “blood brain barrier” which protects the brain from potentially toxic molecules.
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.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles are preparing to embark on human trials after promising results in rabbits. Their drug reached brain cells and reduced muscle and movement problems.
The Stroke Association said it was the “first significant research” suggesting that the compound could aid stroke patients.
The US researchers, who reported their results to a stroke conference, modified curcumin to come up with a new version, CNB-001, which could pass the blood brain barrier. The laboratory tests on rabbits suggested it might be effective up to three hours after a stroke in humans – about the same time window available for current “clot-busting” drugs.
Dr Paul Lapchak, who led the study, said that the drug appeared to have an effect on “several critical mechanisms” which might keep brain cells alive after a stroke. Although strokes kill brain cells by depriving them of oxygenated blood, this triggers a chain reaction which can widen the damaged area – and increase the level of disability suffered by the patient.
Dr Lapchak said that CNB-001 appeared to repair four “signalling pathways” which are known to help fuel the runaway destruction of brain cells. Though human trials are being planned, any new treatment could still be some time away.
Dr Sharlin Ahmed, from The Stroke Association, said that turmeric was known to have health benefits. She said: “There is a great need for new treatments which can protect brain cells after a stroke and improve recovery.”
This is the first significant research to show that turmeric 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.