Indian American scientist tracks turmeric’s curative element

March 7th, 2009 - 6:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 7 (IANS) Researchers led by an Indian American scientist have discovered how the main curative ingredient of turmeric - used for centuries to treat wounds, infections and other health problems - works to increase the human body’s resistance to disease.
Lately, turmeric’s astonishing array of antioxidant, anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and other properties have spurred a flurry of research into curcumin, its main curative ingredient. Yet little was known about how exactly it works in the body.

Now, researchers led by Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, professor of biophysics at the University of Michigan (U-M), have discovered that curcumin acts as a disciplinarian, inserting itself into cell membranes and improving their resistance to infection and malignancy.

“The membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information flow through it can be controlled,” said Ramamoorthy, who has a doctorate from the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur.

The research project melds Ramamoorthy’s past with his current scientific interests. As a child in India, he was given turmeric-laced milk to drink when he had a cold. He inhaled steam infused with turmeric to relieve congestion.

Now, as researcher, he is fascinated with proteins that are associated with biological membranes and he uses a technique called solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to reveal atom-level details of these important molecules and the membranous milieu in which they operate.

“Probing high-resolution intermolecular interactions in the messy membrane environment has been a major challenge to commonly-used biophysical techniques,” Ramamoorthy said.

His research group developed the two-dimensional NMR technique that it used to probe curcumin-membrane communication in this study.

Scientists have speculated that curcumin does its health-promoting work by interacting directly with membrane proteins, but the new findings challenge that notion.

Instead, the researchers found that curcumin regulates the action of membrane proteins indirectly, by changing the physical properties of the membrane.

Ramamoorthy’s group now is collaborating with chemistry professor Masato Koreeda and U-M’s Life Sciences Institute researcher Jason Gestwicki to study a variety of curcumin derivatives, some of which have enhanced potency, a university statement said.

“We want to see how these various derivatives interact with the membrane, to see if the interactions are the same as what we have observed in the current study,” Ramamoorthy said.

“Such a comparative study could lead to the development of potent compounds to treat infection and other diseases,” he added. The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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