Studies on animals suggest that a new hybrid drug, made in part from the chemical in the yellow spice turmeric, could help regenerate brain cells after a stroke, US researchers said.
The molecular compound is made with curcumin, a natural yellow pigment that originates from a perennial herb called Curcuma longa and is popular in South Asian and Middle Eastern foods, particularly curries.
Human trials on the drug, which works by restoring pathways that feed neurons, could begin soon, according to scientist Paul Lapchak of Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre.
The new drug does not attack clots, but if administered to rabbits in one hour, which translates to three hours in human time, it "reduced stroke-caused 'motor deficits', problems of muscle and movement control," the study said.
The hybrid compound, CNB-001, "crosses the blood-brain barrier, is quickly distributed in the brain, and moderates several critical mechanisms involved in neuronal survival," Lapchak said.
The spice by itself has proven problematic because it could not absorb well in the body or reach its target in high concentrations.
The blood brain barrier
It was also naturally blocked from entering the brain by the protective mechanism called the blood-brain barrier.
Currently there is only one approved drug treatment for ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.
Known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the drug is injected intravenously to dissolve clots and reinstate blood flow.
A separate study published in Britain last year suggested curcumin could help alleviate liver damage in mice.
(Sapa, February 2011)
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