Turmeric is a ubiquitous ingredient in home remedies for ailments ranging from infections to arthritis. A mixture of turmeric and milk (haldi-doodh) has been used as a traditional cure for bone fractures. Modern science has shown that curcumin, the primary component of turmeric, possesses anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. In recent times, researchers in the field of bone tissue engineering, who seek to engineer novel strategies for bone tissue regeneration, are exploring the documented benefits of curcumin on bone growth. Now, a new study by Prof. Kaushik Chatterjee and his group at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, shows that encapsulating curcumin in a restorable ‘scaffold’ enables sustained release of the chemical, and enhances bone repair. The study is an attempt to highlight the promise of phytochemicals, a class of molecules found in Indian spices, in bone tissue engineering.
One of the major goals of tissue engineered bone grafts is to accelerate the healing process through the release of molecules that aid in bone repair. Typically, these molecules are expensive and sensitive proteins that become inactive very quickly within the scaffold.“Phytochemicals are more stable and potent chemicals. We takein a lot of phytochemicals in the form of spices and many have various health benefits aside from adding flavour to our food”, says Shubham Jain, a research assistant in Dr. Chatterjee's group and the lead author of the reported study.
The team used a process called electrospinning to build scaffolds consisting of thin fibers of a biodegradable polymer called poly-caprolactone (PCL), which is used in many medical products approved for clinical use. By mixing different proportions of curcumin along with PCL during electrospinning, they were able to generate scaffolds containing different concentrations of curcumin. When placed in saline solution, the scaffolds continued to release the entrapped curcumin for several days.
Next, the team studied the effects of using these curcumin-releasing scaffolds on the growth of bone cells. To do this, they encapsulated immature mouse bone cells in scaffolds containing curcumin and analyzed parameters such as the rate of proliferation, production of mature bone cells (a process called osteogenesis) and mineral deposition. They found that high curcumin concentrations retarded the proliferation of immature cells, possibly due to toxicity. However, at moderate concentrations, they found increased levels of osteogenesis and mineral deposition compared to scaffolds without curcumin after 21 days. These results indicated that, at certain concentrations, curcumin-releasing scaffolds accelerate bone growth and mineralization.
Commenting on the significance of the study, Dr. Chatterjee says, “These studies open up the possibility of usingphytochemicals and broadly speaking utilize the knowledge of several alternative medicine routes with modern science”.