New hybrid drug, derived from common spice, may protect, rebuild brain cells after stroke

Feb 10, 2011

Whether or not you're fond of Indian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern food, stroke researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center think you may become a fan of one of their key spices.

The scientists created a new molecule from curcumin, a chemical component of the golden-colored spice turmeric, and found in laboratory experiments that it affects mechanisms that protect and help regenerate brain cells after . Research scientist Paul A. Lapchak, Ph.D., director of Translational Research in the Department of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, presented these findings at the American Heart Association International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

Only one drug is now approved for , which occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Commonly called a "clot-busting drug," (tPA) is injected intravenously to dissolve clots and reinstate . If blood and oxygen are restored in time, consequences of the stroke, such as speech, memory, movement and other impairments, may be reduced.

The new curcumin-hybrid compound—CNB-001—does not attack clots but instead repairs stroke damage at the molecular level that feed and support the all-important brain cells, neurons.

Curcumin has been studied for its potential to treat brain injury and disease, and while the substance itself looks promising, it has several drawbacks, especially as an emergency stroke treatment, which must be quick to be effective: It is not well absorbed in the body, fails to reach its target in high concentrations, becomes depleted quickly, and is blocked from entering the brain by a natural protective mechanism called the blood-brain barrier.

"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," Lapchak says, adding that he and his colleagues expect the new drug to move to human clinical trials soon.

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.

Theoretically, interrupting these harmful events and restoring normal pathway function could prevent cell death and the memory and behavioral deficits that result, but it will take a cocktail of drugs or a drug capable of targeting many mechanisms to correct the many pathways damaged by stroke, Lapchak says. CNB-001protects from damage by repairing four major pathways. One mechanism also plays a major role in the growth and survival of neurons.

The drug reduced stroke-caused "motor deficits"—problems of muscle and movement control—in this laboratory study. It was effective when administered up to an hour after stroke, which correlates with about three hours in humans, the same time frame for which tPA is currently approved.

Lapchak and colleagues at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies used the same laboratory rabbit model to mimic human stroke that earlier researchers had employed before the clot-busting drug tPA entered clinical trials. Patrick D. Lyden, M.D., chairman of Cedars-Sinai's Department of Neurology, helped lead a major trial that resulted in the Food and Drug Administration's 1996 approval of tPA, still considered the stroke treatment gold standard.

Those who cook Indian, Thai, Malay and Persian dishes know turmeric well for its zesty flavor, use in curries and for the rich color it imparts to food. Turmeric also has a long history of use in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine.

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Provided by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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elisevil
not rated yet Feb 11, 2011
Turmeric is turning out to be an amazing medicine, but even though many curries (blends of various spices) are quite flavorful, turmeric itself is quite bland. You can eat it by itself, or add it to many foods without altering the taste. Too bad it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier.
Alcedine
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Turmeric isn't the only phyto-chemical with medical properties that aren't all that widely known. Safranal and picrocrocin, found in saffron, have antidepressant properties, according to certain Iranian studies. There are indications, too, that the allicin found in garlic kills MRSA.

I'm glad to see that these things are being investigated. A lot of money goes into designing agonists, inhibitors and such, because frankly, money will come out of it. I don't think anyone will be able to patent garlic, and sadly, just being useful medically isn't a guarantee for attention.