Turmeric is a very well-known spice, used to add colour and flavour to various foods. It is very popular in Indian cuisine, but it is slowly making its way into western restaurants and coffee places. In fact, turmeric latte is gaining traction as well. But scientists from UCL think that turmeric may be even more useful – they are going to try using derivative of turmeric to treat the early stages of glaucoma.
Scientists are interested in curcumin, which can be extracted from turmeric. They want to use drops to deliver it right to the back of the eye, despite curcumin being not very soluble in water. Scientists already showed that curcumin is able to combat one of the early signs of glaucoma – it can reduce the loss of retinal cells in rats. However, curcumin could be useful as a diagnostic tool as well, allowing detection of brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Glaucoma is affecting over 60 million people worldwide and leads to blindness in 1 in 10 cases.
Glaucoma is characterized by the loss of retinal ganglion cells – it starts early in disease’s progression. Stopping this process has not yet been achieved, but now scientists are turning their eyes to curcumin, which has previously been shown to protect retinal ganglion cells when administered orally. Because its poor solubility, oral dose has to be pretty big, which causes negative side effects. Using it in eye drops would allow reducing the dose and making it more impactful. The best thing is that the surfactant and a stabiliser used in the new nanocarrier are already in existing eye products. This means that they are already proven and safe. Scientists tested these drops with rats and noticed that only after one week of using the medicine twice a day the retinal ganglion cell loss was significantly reduced.
Glaucoma and neurodegenerative diseases are associated with aging. Society is getting older, which means that these conditions are going to be bigger and bigger problems in the world. Which is why now scientists will look into diagnostic uses for curcumin. Dr Ben Davis, co-lead author of the study, said: “We are now researching diagnostic uses for these eye drops alongside other ways to visualise the retina, as eye tests can be an opportunity to detect signs of neurodegeneration with a simple, non-invasive test”.
Curcumin is already proven and working. The real innovation is a new delivery mechanism. Now we have to wait and see how clinical trials are going to go and if progression of glaucoma can be slow down significantly in humans.