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Curcumin could ultimately support drug therapies to defeat devastating viruses, virologists predict

  [ 72 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • August 17, 2012

“Broad-spectrum inhibitors work by defeating a wide array of viruses”…and…“curcumin is, by its very nature, broad spectrum.”

Curcumin, a bioactive component of the popular spice turmeric, “shows promise in fighting devastating viruses,” researchers at George Mason University’s Biodefense & Infectious Diseases Center demonstrated recently.

The study on which they base this statement - published Aug 10 by the Journal of Biological Chemistry - reports that curcumin can stop multiplication of the potentially deadly Rift Valley Fever virus in infected human cells, and has demonstrated antiviral efficacy in infected mice.

Mosquito-borne Rift Valley Fever virus (RVF) is an acute, fever-causing virus that affects domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, as well as humans. Known for stimulating an exaggerated inflammatory response in some patients, this virus has invaded most of Africa and may be considered ‘emerging’, as cases have been identified outside Africa as well.

“In the published article [“Curcumin Inhibits Rift Valley Fever Virus Replication in Human Cells”], we provide evidence that curcumin may interfere with how the virus manipulates the human cell to stop the cell from responding to the infection,” says lead investigator Aarthi Narayanan, PhD.

Importantly, Dr. Narayanan says:

• She intends to apply the research to other viruses, because ‘broad-spectrum inhibitors’ work by defeating a wide array of viruses, and “curcumin is, by its very nature, broad spectrum.”

• In particular she’s interested in a family of viruses that includes Rift Valley Fever virus, called Bunyaviruses, and such alphaviruses as Venezuelan equine encephalitis and retroviruses, which notably include HIV.

• She also plans to test 10 different versions of curcumin to determine which one works the best.

Dr. Narayanan, who has spent the past 18 months working on the RVF project, says she has long wanted to explore the infection-fighting properties of turmeric, and curcumin in particular. “Growing up in India, I was given turmeric all the time,” she explains. “I know this works. I know it works because I have seen it happen in real life….Every time my son has a throat infection, I give (turmeric) to him.”

“It is often not taken seriously because it’s a spice,” she observes, and though science is now transforming that spice from folk medicine to a respected natural agent for immune support, there’s more work to do before curcumin-based pharmaceuticals become commonplace.

Dr. Narayanan and her colleagues study the connection between a virus and how it impacts the host - human or animal. Symptoms clue in the researcher about the body’s inner workings. Rift Valley Fever and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis kick off with flu-like symptoms, for example. And their symptoms can make it challenging for someone to recover.

The body usually starts with an exaggerated inflammatory response because it doesn’t know where to start to rid itself of the virus, Dr. Narayanan says. “Many times, the body goes above and beyond what is necessary, and that’s not good because it’s going to influence a bunch of cells around the infection, which haven’t seen the bug.”

“That’s one way by which disease spreads through your body. And so it is very important to control the host because a lot of times the way the host responds contributes to the disease.”

Controlling the symptoms means more than simply making the patients feel better.

• “You’re giving the antiviral a chance to work. Now an antiviral can go in and stop the bug.

• “You’re no longer trying to keep the host alive and battling the bug at the same time.”

Once Dr. Narayanan knows how the body responds to a virus, it’s time to go after the bug itself. She delves into uncovering why and how each virus affects the patient.

“Why are some cell types more susceptible to one type of infection than another?”

• HIV goes after the immune system.

• Bunyaviruses will infect a wide range of cells but do maximum damage to the liver. “What is it about the liver that makes it a sitting duck compared to something like the brain?” Dr. Narayanan asks.

Ultimately, curcumin could be part of drug therapies that help defeat these viruses, she concludes.

(Other George Mason University researchers involved in the study are Kylene Kehn-Hall, Charles Bailey, Ravi Das, Irene Guendel, Lindsay Hall, Fatah Kashanchi, Svetlana Senina and Rachel Van Duyne. Also contributing were researchers from George Washington University, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and the University of Pittsburg Regional Biocontainment Laboratory.)


Source: Based on George Mason University news release, Aug 15, 2012, by Michele McDonald.

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