Science + Technology

UCLA/VA Study Finds Chemical Found in Curry May Help Immune System Clear Amyloid Plaques Found in Alzheimer’s Disease

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UCLA/VA researchers found that curcumin— a chemical found in curry and turmeric — may help the immune system clear thebrain of amyloid beta, which form the plaques foundin Alzheimer's disease.

Published in the Oct. 9 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer'sDisease, the early laboratory findings may lead to a new approach in treatingAlzheimer's disease by enhancing the natural function of the immune systemusing curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory andanti-oxidant properties.

Using blood samples from six Alzheimer's disease patientsand three healthy control patients, the researchers isolated cells calledmacrophages, which are the immune system's PacMenthat travel through the brain and body, gobbling up waste products, including amyloid beta.

The team treated the macrophageswith a drug derived from curcumin for 24 hours in acell culture and then introduced amyloid beta.Treated macrophages from three out of six Alzheimer's disease patients showedimproved uptake or ingestion of the waste product compared to the patients'macrophages not treated with curcumin. Macrophagesfrom the healthy controls, which were already effectively clearing amyloid beta, showed no change when curcuminwas added.

"Curcumin improvedingestion of amyloid beta by immune cells in 50 percent of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Theseinitial findings demonstrate that curcumin may helpboost the immune system of specific Alzheimer's disease patients," said Dr.Milan Fiala, study author and a researcher with theDavid Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the VA Greater Los Angeles HealthCare System. "We are hopeful that these positive results in a test tube maytranslate to clinical use, but more studies need to be done before curcumin can be recommended."

The patients ranged in age from 65 to 84. Fiala noted that the patients whose immune cells respondedwere younger and had higher scores on a Mini-Mental State Examinationsuggesting that curcumin may help those with lessadvanced dementia. Some of the patients may have already had additional curcumin in their systems due to participation in anotherUCLA study, which may have impacted findings.

"Our next step will be to identifythe factors that helped these immune cells respond," said Laura Zhang, a studyauthor and a UCLA/VA research assistant in Fiala'slab.

Fiala noted that the methodresearchers used to test the immune cell response of macrophages may provide anovel way of evaluating the effectiveness of drugs in clearing amyloid beta from the brain and may help to individualizeAlzheimer's disease treatment.

According to Fiala,macrophages are the soldiers of the innate immune system — the part of the immune system which ispresent at birth. Curcumin may support thebody's natural immune fighting function in directly helping macrophages cleanaway amyloid-beta. The treatment of macrophages with curcumin is radically different from some of the vaccineapproaches currently being studied.

The study was funded by the Alzheimer's Disease Association and private donors. The curcumin derived drug was provided by the Sabinsa Corporation, a company that manufacturers phytonutrients and specialty chemicals for nutritional,pharmaceutical and food industries. Fialaparticipated in a speaking engagement for Sabinsa.

Other study authors include:Michelle Mahanian, Justin Zaghiand Mark Rosenthal from the Department of Medicine, Veterans Affairs GreaterLos Angeles Healthcare System and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; JohnCashman of the Human BioMolecularResearch Institute, San Diego; James Sayre of the Department of Biostatistics,UCLA School of Public Health; Araceli Espinosa of theUCLA Department of Neurobiology; Vladimir Badmaev,Applied Pharmacology, Sabinsa Corporation, NewJersey; Michael C. Graves, UCLA Department of Neurology; and George Bernard,UCLA Department of Neurology and Division of Oral Biology and Medicine, UCLASchool of Dentistry.

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