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Component of Common Spice Turmeric Shows Promise in Brain Tumor Treatment

Monday, April 18, 2011-Article by Karen Bengston

Wilmington, DE – Today, BMC Cancer reported promising findings from the Nemours Center for Childhood Cancer Research in Wilmington, DE, about the potential for components of a common spice to be effective in treating brain tumors in children.

Brain tumors are the second most frequent malignant tumors in children and are often associated with poor prognoses and outcomes when compared with other common pediatric cancers. Among pediatric brain tumors, medulloblastoma is the most common malignant form. Despite advances in treatment, favorable outcomes lag behind many other pediatric cancers and treatment often results in severe long-term side effects.  Thus, it is imperative to identify safer, more effective treatments for medulloblastoma.

In studies conducted by Sigrid Rajasekaran, PhD, and her team at the Nemours Center for Childhood Cancer Research, scientists evaluated curcumin as a potential therapeutic for medulloblastoma. Curcumin is a major component of the spice turmeric derived from the plant Curcuma longa and has been used for centuries in India and other parts of Southeast Asia as a cooking spice and a medicine. Recently, curcumin has gained wider attention as a potent anti-cancer agent.

In clinical trials in adults, curcumin has demonstrated effectiveness and safety, with no discernable side effects in various cancers. In addition, no adverse reactions in children have been reported so far. Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, which means it may decrease the inflammation that appears to play a role in cancer.       

In this study, researchers showed that curcumin can kill human medulloblastoma cells cultured in the laboratory. But more importantly, they also found that curcumin reduces tumor growth and increases survival in in vivo (animal) models of medulloblastoma. This finding is very important because it shows that curcumin can be effective in crossing the blood brain barrier. The failure of treatment for brain tumors in many instances is not due to lack of potency of the drugs, but instead due to the failure of these drugs to reach the brain because of their inability to cross the blood brain barrier. The blood brain barrier protects the brain from potentially toxic substances in the blood but it also impedes efficient drug delivery.

Nemours researchers’ finding that curcumin can be effective in the brains of mice to reduce medulloblastoma growth suggests that curcumin has the potential to be developed as a therapeutic for medulloblastoma without the severe side effects of current treatment regimens.

While the Nemours research team found that curcumin reduces tumor growth, they were not able to completely eradicate the cancer. Studies are now underway to test whether curcumin will be more effective in combination with other modes of therapy for medulloblastoma while at the same time reducing the severe side effects of current treatment regimens.

Nicole Spagna founded D.O. Believe Foundation in the memory of her son, Dominic Osorio, who succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 7. Nicole said, “These kinds of advances and discoveries are the number one reason I choose to donate the funds raised in my son Dominic’s memory to Nemours. The inability of current treatments to cross the blood brain barrier is devastating to say the least. Mothers like me are grateful for the dedication of Dr. Sigrid Rajasekaran and her team in their efforts towards finding a cure, with reduced side effects, for our children. Advances in treatment like this will always remind me of the son I have lost, but give me continued hope that one day children will not have to experience the side effects and struggles that my son did.”

The Nemours study, Curcumin-induced HDAC inhibition and attenuation of medulloblastoma growth in vitro and in vivo, can be found on BMC Cancer.
About Nemours

Nemours, one of the nation’s leading pediatric health systems, is dedicated to achieving higher standards in children’s health by offering a spectrum of clinical treatment, research, advocacy, and educational health and prevention services extending to all families in the communities it serves. Starting with Alfred I. duPont’s bequest over seventy years ago, Nemours has grown into a multi-dimensional organization offering personalized clinical and preventive care focused on children.

Nemours owns and operates the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware and major children’s specialty clinics in Delaware (Wilmington), Florida (Jacksonville, Orlando and Pensacola), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Lancaster and Newtown Square) and New Jersey (Egg Harbor Township and Voorhees). Nemours will establish a new full-service children’s hospital in Orlando in 2012. KidsHealth.org, the world’s most visited pediatric health care Web site for parents, kids and teens, is a project of Nemours. 

Nemours employs over 4,100 individuals, including 430 pediatric physicians, specialists and surgeons who cared for almost a quarter of a million children in 2009. The organization’s goal is to align with parents, physicians, community leaders, children’s advocates and elected officials to ensure optimal wellness for every child. For more information about Nemours, please visit www.nemours.org.