Turmeric is a natural spice used first by the Indians for both food preparation and as a medicinal herb, and now presently used by many people across the globe, especially since the recent discovery of its many amazing health benefits. Studies reveal that these health benefits stem from the action of its main active ingredient – curcumin.
Curcumin is a yellow-pigmented compound that gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color. This compound is a powerful antioxidant and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Asides from its already known benefits including anti-inflammation, reduction of cancer cell growth, and reduced risk of heart and brain disorders, a team of bioengineers at UC Riverside has recently discovered that this yellow-pigmented compound also aids regeneration of blood vessels and tissues.
The discovery process
It has long been suspected that curcumin promotes the growth of vascular cells and tissues, however, this thesis was not confirmed until a group of bioengineers led by Huinan Liu, carried out a recent study for confirmation and what they discovered could contribute a lot of positivity to the world of medicine.
Since the growth of vascular cells is controlled by signal proteins known as VEGF – vascular endothelial growth factor – they figured out that finding a way to promote the continuous secretion of these proteins was the key to facilitating the regrowth of the cells. Therefore, they focused on finding a way to keep the production of these proteins constant within the body. Then, they investigated the compound – curcumin – to determine whether it does the job.
Here is what they did: they coated iron oxide nanoparticles, which possess strong magnetic properties, with the compound, and mixed them to form a magnetic biocompatible hydrogel. They then injected this magnetic hydrogel into their lab-grown stem cells. They observed that the compound was slowly released into the culture in a way that did not injure the cells. When they compared these cells with those that received hydrogels made of nanoparticles that had no curcumin coating, they noticed that the latter secreted the signal proteins in larger quantities than the former.
Next, they decided to find out if they could drive the nanoparticles to body areas where they want them to be because they are magnetic. To do this, they got some pieces of fresh pig tissues and put the nanoparticles that had curcumin coatings into a tube behind them. Using a magnet, they were able to readily move the nanoparticles to areas of the pig tissues where they intend them to be.
This study has shown that lab scientists can now grow vascular cells and tissues in larger quantities using curcumin, and even transport them to desired areas of the body – this would make the replacement and regeneration of damaged vascular cells in humans possible, thereby, reducing the number of deaths occurring from it.
Curcumin indeed is a compound with several health benefits, no wonder scientists have made it readily available as a supplement. This discovery about this powerful compound is just one of its many important health benefits.
Radha Daya et al, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2022). Angiogenic Hyaluronic Acid Hydrogels with Curcumin-Coated Magnetic Nanoparticles for Tissue Repair