Investigators at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Georgia State University have been rummaging through the local farmer's markets in the search for a healthy supply of an unlikely starting material in the development of a potential new treatment strategy for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—ginger root. The researchers were able to turn the root into what they are calling ginger-derived nanoparticles (GDNPs) through the use of a blender, high-speed centrifugation, and ultrasonic dispersion of the ginger juice to break it up into single pellets.
The Veterans Affairs team led by Didier Merlin, Ph.D., research career scientist at the VA and professor at Georgia State, believes that their derived particles could provide a supplemental therapy for patients suffering from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of IBD. The scientists also show evidence that suggests the nanoparticles may be useful in the fight against cancer linked to colitis.
“We characterized a specific population of nanoparticles derived from edible ginger (GDNPs 2) and demonstrated their efficient colon targeting following oral administration,” the authors wrote. “These nanoparticles contained high levels of lipids, a few proteins, ∼125 microRNAs (miRNAs), and large amounts of ginger bioactive constituents (6-gingerol and 6-shogaol). We also demonstrated that GDNPs 2 were mainly taken up by intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and macrophages, and were nontoxic.”
The findings from this study were published recently in Biomaterials in an article entitled “Edible Ginger-derived Nanoparticles: A Novel Therapeutic Approach for the Prevention and Treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colitis-associated Cancer.”
Each ginger-based nanoparticle was about 230 nanometers in diameter—put into perspective, it would equate to more than 300 of them fitting across the width of a human hair. Using mouse models of IBD, the research team showed that the nanoparticles targeted the colon efficiently and were absorbed mainly by cells in the lining of the intestines, where inflammation from IBD occurs.
Additionally, the researchers described evidence that showed the particles reduced acute colitis and prevented chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer. Moreover, the particles enhanced intestinal repair by boosting the survival and proliferation of the cells that make up the lining of the colon, while concomitantly lowering the production of proteins that promote inflammation.
“Using different mouse colitis models, we showed that GDNPs 2 reduced acute colitis, enhanced intestinal repair, and prevented chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer (CAC),” the authors remarked. “2-D fluorescence difference gel electrophoresis/mass spectrometry (2D-DIGE/MS) analyses further identified molecular target candidates of GDNPs 2 involved in these mouse models. Oral administration of GDNPs 2 increased the survival and proliferation of IECs and reduced the pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α [tumor necrosis factor-α], IL[interleukin]-6, and IL-1β), and increased the anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10 and IL-22) in colitis models, suggesting that GDNPs 2 has the potential to attenuate damaging factors while promoting the healing effect.”
The researchers hypothesize that part of the therapeutic effect comes from the high levels of lipids in the particles—a result of the natural lipids in the ginger plant. The nanoparticles also retained key active constituents found naturally in ginger, such as 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol, which in previous studies have shown to be active against oxidation, inflammation, and cancer.
While ancient 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, the authors of this new study surmise that delivering the ginger-derived compounds in a nanoparticle may be a more efficient way to target colon tissue than just providing the herb as a food or supplement. The advantage of ginger, say the researchers, is that it's nontoxic and could represent a very cost-effective source of medicine.