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Component of Turmeric Shows Promise in Brain Tumor Treatment

Monday, Apr 18, 2011


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 is an internationally recognized children's health system that owns and operates the two free-standing children’s hospitals: the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, Fla., along with outpatient facilities in five states, delivering pediatric primary, specialty and urgent care. Nemours also powers the world’s most-visited website for information on the health of children and teens,, and offers on-demand, online video patient visits through Nemours CareConnect. Nemours is a program dedicated to preventing reading failure in young children, grounded in Nemours’ understanding that child health and learning are inextricably linked, and that reading level is a strong predictor of adult health.

Established as The Nemours Foundation through the legacy and philanthropy of Alfred I. duPont, Nemours provides pediatric clinical care, research, education, advocacy and prevention programs to families in the communities it serves.