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VA Lab Team Spins Ginger Into Nanoparticles to Heal Inflammatory Bowel Disease

VA DidierMerlin

A recent study by researchers at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs (VA) office took them to a not-so-likely destination—local farmers markets—where they went in search of fresh gingerroot.

Back at the lab, the scientists turned the ginger into what they are calling GDNPs, or ginger-derived nanoparticles. The process started simply enough, with your basic kitchen blender. But then it involved super-high-speed centrifuging and ultrasonic dispersion of the ginger juice to break it up into single pellets. (Don't try this at home!)

The research team, led by Dr. Didier Merlin with the VA and the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, believes the particles may be good medicine for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The particles may also fight cancer linked to colitis.

They report their findings, which are based on experiments with cells and mice, in the September 2016 issue of Biomaterials.

Efficiently targeting the colon

Each ginger-based nanoparticle was about 230 nanometers in diameter. More than 300 of them could fit across the width of a human hair.

Fed to lab mice, the particles appeared to be nontoxic and had significant therapeutic effects:

  • Importantly, they efficiently targeted the colon. They were absorbed mainly by cells in the lining of the intestines, where IBD inflammation occurs.
  • The particles reduced acute colitis and prevented chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer.
  • They enhanced intestinal repair by boosting the survival and proliferation of the cells that make up the lining of the colon, lowered the production of proteins that promote inflammation, and raised the levels of proteins that fight inflammation.

Part of the therapeutic effect comes from the high levels of lipids—fatty molecules—in the particles, a result of the natural lipids in the ginger plant. One of the lipids is phosphatidic acid, an important building block of cell membranes.

The particles also retained key active constituents found naturally in ginger, such as 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol. Past lab studies have shown the compounds to be active against oxidation, inflammation, and cancer. They are what make standard ginger an effective remedy for nausea and other digestion problems. Traditional cultures have used ginger medicinally for centuries, and health food stores carry ginger-based supplements—such as chews, or the herb mixed with honey in a syrup—as digestive aids.

Delivering these compounds in a nanoparticle, according to Merlin's team, may be a more effective way to target colon tissue than simply providing the herb as a food or supplement.

Ginger could be a cost-effective medicine source

The idea of fighting IBD with nanoparticles is not new. In recent years, Merlin's lab and others have explored how to deliver conventional drugs via nanotechnology. Some of this research is promising. The approach may allow low doses of drugs to be delivered only where they are needed—such as inflamed tissue in the colon—and thus avoid unwanted systemic effects.

Ginger’s advantage is that it's nontoxic and could represent a very cost-effective source of medicine.

The group is looking at ginger and other plants as potential "nanofactories for the fabrication of medical nanoparticles."

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