Scientists have come up with a potential new way to treat neuroblastoma, the most common kind of cancer in infants, by targeting it with nanoparticles loaded up with an ingredient of the spice turmeric.
Turmeric is more often used to add flavour to curries, but the curcumin chemical it contains has shown promising progress in tests in destroying neuroblastoma tumour cells resistant to other drugs.
If scientists can work out how to adapt this into a full and safe treatment, it would have the benefit of being less toxic and unpleasant for patients than traditional alternatives like chemotherapy – which is especially important when you're dealing with young kids.
"High-risk neuroblastoma can be resistant to traditional therapy, and survival can be poor," says lead researcher Tamarah J. Westmoreland, from the University of Central Florida.
Using curcumin to fight cancer isn't a new idea, but it's difficult to get the chemical into drugs because of its low solubility and poor stability. Nanoparticles could fix that.
Even better, the nanoparticles were more effective against the type of cells usually most resistant to conventional drugs.
As neuroblastoma is usually very difficult to treat, that's a promising start for these spicy nanoparticles. Not only is it largely resistant to anti-cancer drugs, it's also known to cause health problems after successful treatment, including hearing loss and other disabilities. It also often returns after treatment.
If we can develop an effective nanoparticle approach to fighting neuroblastoma, it would be yet more evidence of the potential of treating disease at the smallest possible scales: nanoparticles have previously been shown to help kickstart the human immune system to help fight cancer, for example.
"We are hopeful that in the future, nanoparticles can be utilised to personalise care to patients and reduce the late effects of therapy," says Westmoreland.