Scientists have long been intrigued by a cure for neuroblastoma, which is the most common kind of cancer in babies, and they have been targeting it with nanoparticles loaded up with an ingredient of the spice turmeric.

Typically, turmeric is used to add flavour to curries, but the curcumin chemical that embodies it has shown promising progress in tests designed to destroy neuroblastoma tumour cells that are resistant to other drugs.

Once scientists can figure out how to take this into a full and safe treatment, it would have the benefit of being less toxic and thus less unpleasant for patients than traditional alternatives like chemotherapy – which is particularly important when treating children.

“High-risk neuroblastoma can be resistant to traditional therapy, and survival can be poor,” says lead researcher Tamarah J. Westmoreland, from the University of Central Florida.

“This research demonstrates a novel method of treating this tumour without the toxicity of aggressive therapy that can also have late effects on the patient’s health.”

CURCUMIN

It has long been known that curcumin fights cancer cells, but the trouble is getting the chemical into drugs because of its poor stability and low solubility. Nanoparticles could fix this.

During the study cerium oxide nanoparticles loaded with curcumin and coated in dextran were shown to cause “substantial” cell death in neuroblastoma cells while having little impact on healthy cells – the perfect combination for a cancer drug.

In addition to this, the nanoparticles were even more effective against the tupe of cells that are typically resistant to conventional drug treatment.

Neuroblastoma is very difficult to treat, so this is promising news for the spicy nanoparticles. This type of cancer normally takes root near the kidneys, striking 700 people per year in the US, most of whom are under 5.

Not only is it difficult to treat, even with successful treatment, its known to cause long-lasting health problems including hearing loss and other disabilities.

If we can develop an effective nanoparticle approach to fighting neuroblastoma, it could open the door as evidence of the potential treatment of disease at the smallest possible scales. Nanoparticles have previously been shown to help kickstart the human immune system to help fight cancer, for example.