While turmeric root has been used medicinally throughout the world for centuries, science has found that its main chemical component, curcumin, breaks down in the body before its ultimate benefits can be achieved. An exciting collaboration among Carnegie Mellon University researchers Sai Yerneni, Phil Campbell, Burak Ozdoganlar, and Ezgi Yalcintas has created an approach to uniquely enable the use of curcumin as a robust therapeutic.
Curcumin is an anti-cancerous, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-bacterial polyphenol found in turmeric. However, its isolated, pure form is not stable due to its rapid degradation within and clearance from the body. This represents one of the largest obstacles to its translation as a practical therapeutic. It also serves as motivation for researchers to explore encapsulation strategies to protect the curcumin inside the human body.
One such encapsulation approach is to incorporate curcumin into exosomes. Exosomes are nanometric extracellular vesicles that the human body uses for cell-to-cell communication by moving proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and metabolites. By placing curcumin in exosomes, the chemical is stable enough to travel throughout the body and achieve its therapeutic effect. Although other researchers have attempted to use exosomes to deliver curcumin, the improvement in curcumin's stability was insufficient for its use as a therapeutic.
Albumin, a natural stabilizer protein that occurs in the human body, can address this challenge. Yerneni, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering, and Campbell, a research professor of biomedical engineering, have developed a hybrid approach to leverage the unique properties of both exosomes and albumin. They engineered an exosome-albumin hybrid system to deliver therapeutics, including curcumin.