What was a team of researchers from the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center doing at a local farmers market? They were purchasing fresh ginger root for their latest study, of course.
Back at the lab, the scientists started by placing the ginger in a regular kitchen blender, then taking that juice and breaking it up into single pellets with some super-high-speed centrifuging and ultrasonic dispersion. The team calls the pellets GDNPs — or ginger-derived nanoparticles — and they may be good medicine for people suffering from Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis — the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The particles may also help fight cancer linked to colitis, the scientists believe.
The research team, led by Dr. Didier Merlin with VA and the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University, reports its findings in the September 2016 issue of Biomaterials.
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:
Part of the therapeutic effect, say the researchers, comes from the high levels of 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 syrup, as digestive aids.
Delivering these compounds in a nanoparticle, says Merlin's team, may be a more effective way to target colon tissue than simply having ginger in food or supplement form.
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 — inflamed tissue in the colon — and thus avoid unwanted systemic effects.
The advantage of ginger, say the researchers, 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."
We don't know about you, but this nanotechnology business seems like it's pretty great indeed.