Researchers from the University of Arizona dug deeper into the potentials of Turmeric, a native spice from South Asia, for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
Recognized for centuries in the Indian culture and healing practices of Ayurveda to treat several conditions, including RA, stomach problems, bad circulation and skin diseases, Turmeric has long been known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Nonetheless, the reason behind this potential has been unknown until now. Dr Janet Funk, Associate Professor of medicine and nutritional sciences in College of Medicine Tucson, at the University of Arizona, is leading a team that is now working to find all of turmeric’s medicinal potential. “When we first started researching turmeric, it had not yet been studied scientifically in order to discover whether it actually worked as an arthritis treatment,”Dr Funk, who is also a member of the UA’s BIO5 Institute and Cancer Center, stated in a news release.
Funk and her team focused primarily on turmeric’s effect on RA and showed that the chemicals present in the spice were substantially effective to block the body’s inflammatory response. This is valuable knowledge not just for the treatment of RA but also for other conditions, namely stroke. Funk decided to investigate if turmeric could offer an alternative RA treatment with fewer side effects. With these findings in hand, the team then wanted to understand which molecules were responsible for the observed effects. “In our experimental studies, we found turmeric inactivates a protein that is essentially the commander of a ‘fleet’ of inflammatory proteins made by the body. When you block this protein, the fleet does not sail,” Funk stated. “Interestingly, the same protein is also a master regulator of bone breakdown, which is also a problem in RA, so turmeric’s blockade of this protein is sort of ‘two for the price of one’ situation in RA.”
With turmeric’s biologically active spicy compounds and intracellular targets in experimental models identified, Funk’s team is advancing the project away from the lab and into the clinic, to study turmeric’s effects in RA patients. Funk was awarded a research grant from the National Institutes of Health, the agency that will supervise the clinical trial in 45 RA patients to compare the effects of different doses of turmeric supplements and of an inactive placebo control. Funk is now seeking individuals who suffer from RA and whose symptoms are not controlled on methotrexate – a common first-line treatment – and wish to enroll in the trial.
“We are calling it the CLaRA study, which is short for a title that includes turmeric’s botanical name (Curcuma longa L in Rheumatoid Arthritis),” Funk pointed out. “We hope that this name will bring to mind both Clara Barton, a health care pioneer in an era when most medicines were plant-based, and claro, which means ‘clear’ in Spanish, since we believe this study will help clarify exactly what role this botanical may play in modern-day arthritis treatment.”
CLaRA will be an initial study to lay the ground work for a larger trial, also in Arizona. Funk’s turmeric study had a core purpose of showing the potential of natural remedies in modern medicine.
Barbara Timmerman, a previous Regent’s Professor at the UA College of Pharmacy and natural products chemist, was the leader of the center and a major agent in the original NIH grant. Besides Barbara, other contributors played a central role in this turmeric study, whom Funk thanks: “Ongoing research projects require teams of talented UA faculty, students and staff with complementary areas of expertise, ranging from biostatisticians to pharmacologists to clinicians,” Funk said. “It takes a village to move research all the way from the lab bench to the bedside. The UA is our village.”
With the RA clinical trial fast approaching, Funk is already thinking on expanding the impact that turmeric might have in other conditions. For now, examining bone effects of turmeric in breast cancer is on the horizon. Additionally, a potential collaboration is aligned with Thaddeus Pace, Assistant Professor in the UA College of Nursing, conducting a small pilot study on the potentials of turmeric to reduce fatigue caused by chemotherapy and radiation in women who suffer from breast cancer. “One of the exciting things about studying ancient treatments using modern tools is that once you figure out how they work, you sometimes realize that they might also be useful for the treatment of entirely different diseases,” she added. “From learning how turmeric affects bone in our early arthritis work, we realized that turmeric also might be useful in blocking bone metastasis in women with advanced breast cancer.”