A synthetic derivative of the curry spice turmeric, made by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, dramatically improves the behavioral and molecular deficits seen in animal models of ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Two new studies suggest that the novel compound may have clinical promise for these conditions, which currently lack good therapies.

Ischemic stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death of older people in the United States, while TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in both civilians and military personnel under the age of 45; in particular, it is the major cause of disability in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In both conditions, those who survive frequently have serious behavioral and memory deficits. The only FDA-approved treatment for stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), which is effective only in about 20 percent of cases. There is no clinically documented treatment for TBI.

In earlier studies, David R. Schubert. Ph.D., and Pamela Maher, Ph.D., in the Salk Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory had developed a series of new compounds using a novel drug discovery paradigm that starts with natural products derived from plants; it then calls for selecting synthetic derivatives that show efficacy in multiple assays testing protection against various aspects of the nerve cell damage and death that occur in brain injuries and in age-associated neurodegenerative diseases. One compound, called CNB-001, which was derived from curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, proved highly neuroprotective in all of the assays; it also enhanced memory in normal animals.

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