by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
A breakthrough discovery has been made in the treatment of multiple myeloma, an aggressive type of cancer that forms in the plasma cells of bone marrow. Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond recently found that, when combined with molecules from the anti-nausea drug thalidomide, turmeric, the active ingredient of which is commonly known as curcumin, is capable of targeting and killing multiple myeloma cells naturally.
Shijun Zhang, an assistant professor at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy, and his colleagues made this discovery after experimenting with compounds derived from the two substances. The purpose of this was to see whether or not a more potent form of medicinal turmeric could be developed. As you may recall, thalidomide was used back in the 1950s as an anti-nausea medication to treat morning sickness, that is, until it was realized that the drug had been responsible for causing widespread birth defects in children.
However, certain molecules contained in this controversial drug appear to be useful in boosting the efficacy of turmeric, all without causing any harm to patients. Utilizing a process that basically hybridizes molecules from the two substances to create a single master compound, researchers were able to develop a type of "super" turmeric that is exceptionally potent against cancer. And the best part is that any thalidomide components remaining in the compound are effectively disintegrated inside the body.
"Although thalidomide disturbs the microenvironment of tumor cells in bone marrow, it disintegrates in the body," says Zhang. "Curcumin, also active against cancers, is limited by its poor water solubility. But the combination of thalidomide and curcumin in the hybrid molecules enhances both the cytotoxicity and solubility."
Molecule hybrids that involve utilizing the medicinal aspects of natural plants and herbs like turmeric have been gaining more attention in recent years, as the traditional drug approach is failing to provide real solutions for today's most serious diseases. Such diseases, which include things like cancer and neurodegenerative disease, simply do not respond well using conventional methods, so progressive researchers and healers are looking for new ways to treat patients.
As far as the medicinal potential of turmeric is concerned, Dr. Grant and his colleagues were able to create more than 15 different hybrid compounds that perform various anti-cancer functions. Among these, two hybrid compounds in particular, referred to as "5" and "7" in the study, demonstrated improved and superior cell toxicity compared to just curcumin alone or a combination of curcumin and thalidomide, effectively inducing multiple myeloma cell death.
"Overall, the combination of the spice and the drug was significantly more potent than either individually, suggesting that this hybrid strategy in drug design could lead to novel compounds with improved biological activities," says Dr. Steven Grant, M.D., another one of the study's researchers. "Enhanced potency, reduced risk of developing drug resistance, improved pharmacokinetic properties, reduced cost and improved patient compliance are just a few of those advantages."
"The results ... strongly encourage further optimization of compounds 5 and 7 to develop more portent agents as treatment options for multiple myeloma," adds Dr. Grant.
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