Specially-Delivered Spice Combats Infant Cancer

You may have read how curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, has proven effective at killing prostate cancer. What you may not have heard about is how the compound is being used to treat a particularly lethal cancer in infants.


Neuroblastoma forms in certain types of nerve tissue and may be a mutation inherited from parents. It is sometimes found in a baby during an ultrasound scan during pregnancy.

About 700 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Most cases appear in children younger than 5 years old. High-risk neuroblastoma is very tough to beat and is more likely to become resistant to standard therapies or recur. Even more insidious, those cancers are also associated with late effects after treatments have ended, including developmental delays, hearing loss, or other disabilities.

But now scientists at Nemours Children's Hospital and the University of Central Florida have discovered a way to treat the killer by delivering curcumin to the tumor using nanoparticles.

"High-risk neuroblastoma can be resistant to traditional therapy, and survival can be poor. This research demonstrates a novel method of treating this tumor without the toxicity of aggressive therapy that can also have late effects on the patient's health," said Tamarah J. Westmoreland, MD, PhD, senior author of the study. "Unique approaches to target tumor cells with nanoparticle delivery systems hold promise for treatment of resistant tumors, such as the high risk neuroblastoma. We are hopeful that in the future, nanoparticles can be utilized to personalize care to patients and reduce the late effects of therapy."

The UCF scientists loaded Cerium oxide nanoparticles with curcumin and coated them with dextran to test in cell lines of a high-risk form of neuroblastoma, known as MYCN-amplified, as well as non-amplified neuroblastoma. This formulation induced substantial cell death in neuroblastoma cells while producing no or only minor toxicity in healthy cells.

"This shows that nanoparticles can be an effective delivery vehicle for cancer drugs," said Professor Sudipta Seal, who directs of UCF's NanoScience Technology Center and Advanced Materials Processing Analysis Center, and is a collaborator on the study. "More research is needed, but we are hopeful it could lead to more effective treatment of this devastating disease in the future."

The research has been published in Nanoscale.