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Zebrafish Model Shows Ginger A Potential Treatment for Anemia

May 03, 2012

Scientists from NC Central and NC A&T collaborated to identify ginger as a potential treatment for anemia commonly caused by chemotherapy and renal disease.

Zebrafish, aquarium.Tangy and aromatic, ginger is a spice used to flavor meats, vegetables and even baked goods. More than a culinary delight, ginger has been valued for thousands of years for its numerous health benefits.

Ginger, which is the rhizome or underground stem of the plant Zingiber officinale, is recognized as a natural solution for digestive upsets like nausea, diarrhea and cramping. Recent studies have found that bioactive components in ginger have strong anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetes activities.

Another medicinal use for ginger may be as a treatment for anemia, a condition where the quantity of red blood cells is reduced in the body resulting in a diminished ability to carry oxygen to body tissues. TinChung Leung, PhD, of NC Central University (NCCU) and Shengmin Sang, PhD, of NC A&T State University (NC A&T), both scientists at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, collaborated on a series of studies that established ginger as a potential treatment for anemia commonly caused by chemotherapy or renal disease.

Presently, the market for anemia treatments is estimated at $10 billion a year. Treatments for anemia caused by chemotherapy or renal disease are limited, injectable and come with serious side effects including blood clots and accelerated tumor growth in cancer patients. Sang and Leung envision their research leading to a new, oral treatment option, possibly the only one based on a natural product.

Sang, lead scientist for functional foods with NC A&T’s Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies is an expert on natural product research. His research focus is to identify bioactive natural products that can be used to prevent and treat chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. One area of his research, funded by a National Institutes of Health grant, is the study of bioactive compounds in ginger as a lung cancer preventative. He also studies ginger as a preventative for colon cancer. The Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies provides government, industry and academia with expertise in food safety, food and packaging engineering, functional foods, consumer testing and product development.

Leung, who is part of NCCU’s Nutrition Research Program, has extensive experience using zebrafish to study disease and its pathways. Leung employs the zebrafish model to study small molecules that may be drug candidates for the treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancer. He is particularly interested in how zebrafish can serve as a high-throughput tool for natural products and nutritional studies. NCCU’s Nutrition Research Program identifies and evaluates the bioactive compounds in natural products, functional foods and herbal medicine for their potential use in preventing and treating diseases like cancer and diabetes.

“With the zebrafish,” Leung said, “there is a developmental advantage. As a high-throughput, whole animal model, it is very important as a pre-clinical model to test drugs early and see the bioavailability to tissues (and) if there are high efficacies or toxicities. You can test for pharmacokinetics as well.”

With labs located in the Nutrition Research Institute Building on the NCRC, Leung and Sang test the effects of ginger on zebrafish embryos. They added ginger extract to the water of the embryos that were part of a transgenic, transparent line that allows their biologic activity to be easily viewed under a microscope. Noticing an increase in red blood cell circulation as a result of the extract, the scientists chose to conduct additional experiments with transparent zebrafish embryos with red blood cells that fluoresce under ultraviolet light. They purified individual compounds in ginger and tested each one on zebrafish embryos with chemically-induced anemia. Sang and Leung noted that the embryos exposed to 10-gingerol, one of the active small molecules in ginger, were able to recover by producing more red blood cells.

They presented their initial findings at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting in April 2012 and have filed a provisional patent. They are conducting additional studies using the zebrafish model along with mouse studies to continue to understand the full potential of ginger as a therapeutic treatment for anemia.

“Ginger may be a perfect agent for cancer patients,” Sang said. “It may be used at different stages, early as prevention or later with chemotherapy to prevent the side effects of nausea and anemia. We see a bright future ahead for our lines of research.”

For more information,
The NC A&T State University Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Research, call 704-250-5700 or visit www.ag.ncat.edu/cepht
NC Central University Nutrition Research Program visit call 704-250-5728 or visit www.nccu.edu.

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