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A new drug derived from a component of the spice turmeric could protect brain cells in the event of a stroke, and even help them to recover after an attack.
Curcumin is a chemical found in turmeric, a golden-coloured spice used in curries and other dishes. It has previously been studied as a possible treatment for brain injury and disease, but until now it has suffered from a number of drawbacks. For instance the body absorbs it too slowly to be effective in the case of a stoke attack, and it does not reach the affected areas in sufficient quantities provide any benefit. Also the body's own defence mechanisms prevent it from getting to the brain where it is needed.
Now scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles have derived a new compound from curcumin which laboratory experiments have shown can affects mechanisms that protect and help regenerate brain cells after stroke.
At present stroke is typically treated with a "clot busting" drug which when injected will dissolve any blood clots, allowing blood to flow back to the brain. It is this blockage by blood clots, causing deprivation to the brain, that results in damage after stroke. If the drug is administered quickly enough after the stroke, the harm may be reduced.
The new curcumin-hybrid compoun CNB-001does not attack clots but instead repairs stroke damage at the molecular level that feed and support the all-important brain cells, neurons.
Lead scientist Paul A. Lapchak commented that "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."
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.
To treat this effect a range of different drugs will be needed. The new drug affects four of these pathways, repairing them and thus preventing long-term damage. In the experiments the drug reduced stroke-caused "motor deficits" problems of muscle and movement control and the outcome suggests this would be effective up to three hours after a stroke, which is the same time frame in which clot busting drugs can be used.
The study results were presented at the 2011 American Heart Association International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.