The Indian-American researchers, lead by Dipanjan Pan, Associate Professor of Bioengineering at UIUC, have unleashed an important use for curcumin (also known as haldi), the bioactive component of turmeric that is widely used in Indian cuisine, this time to treat cancer in children.
A team of Indian-American researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City, along with researchers at Nemours Children’s Hospital and the University Of Central Florida (UCF) have found that nano-particles loaded with curcumin can target and destroy neuroblastoma tumour cells. Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in children younger than five years old. Dr. Pan's laboratory collaborated with Peter Stang at the University of Utah on ways to be able to render curcumin soluble, deliver it to infected tumors and kill the cancer cells. "Until now, however, curcumin is what we call in pharmaceutical science as a 'false lead' -- it is therapeutic, but the full effect can't be utilized because it's poorly soluble in water," noted the head researcher. Pan's team also hopes to prove that this method will be effective in killing cancer stem cells, in effect cancer's root system.
Importantly, the Curcumin is the active ingredient of turmeric, the ubiquitous kitchen spice that gives curry its yellow colour. This Curcumin is also known to exhibit anti-cancer properties, but its poor solubility in water had impeded curcumin's clinical application in cancer. A drug needs to be soluble in water as otherwise it will not flow through the bloodstream. Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb because of its powerful anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant property.