In the lab, Veterans Affairs scientists transformed raw ginger into what they call “ginger-derived nanoparticles” (GDNPs) using a process that begins with a standard kitchen blender, and super-high-speed centrifuge and ultrasonic dispersion of the ginger juice to break it up into single pellets — definitely not a do-it-yourself project.
Each ginger-based nanoparticle measures roughly 230 nanometers in diameter; more than 300 of them could fit across the width of a single human hair.
The VA research team led by Dr. Didier Merlin, a professor at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences and a research career scientist at the VA Medical Center, believes the GDNPs may not only be a good medicine for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but may also help fight cancer related to colitis.
Merlin, whose main research focus is the study of intestinal epithelia, notes on his GSU website that more than one million adults and children in the U.S., including veterans, suffer from IBD, with about 50,000 new cases diagnosed annually. The VA IBD patients also have a much higher rate of colorectal cancer compared to the general population.
However, he suggests that therapeutic strategies based on a better understanding of IBD development can improve clinical care of all patients with this disorder.
Merlin said that in the intestine, epithelial cells act as a fence or barrier that separates the outside world (intestinal lumen) from the inside world (immune cells). Under conditions such as IBD, a dysregulation of the barrier function occurs, and noxious agents such as bacteria enter the body, activating the immune system and inducing intestinal inflammation.
The VA and Georgia State researchers report their findings, based on experiments with cells and mice, in the journal Biomaterials in a paper titled “Edible ginger-derived nanoparticles: A novel therapeutic approach for the prevention and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and colitis-associated cancer.“
Merlin and his co-authors said there is a clinical need for new, more effective treatments for chronic and debilitating IBD, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. The researchers characterized a specific population of GDNPs and demonstrated their efficiency targeting the colon after being taken orally.
The GDNPs contained high levels of lipids, a few proteins, 125 microRNAs (miRNAs), and large amounts of ginger bioactive constituents (6-gingerol and 6-shogaol). The scientists also demonstrated that GDNPs were mainly taken up by intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and macrophages, and were nontoxic.
Using several mouse colitis models, the investigators showed that GDNPs appeared to be nontoxic and efficiently targeted the colon, being absorbed mainly by cells in the lining of the intestines where IBD inflammation occurs. GDNPs had significant therapeutic effects: reducing acute colitis, enhancing intestinal repair, and preventing chronic colitis and colitis-associated cancer. The particles were also found to have the potential to reduce the effect of damaging factors while promoting healing.
GDNPs boosted the survival and proliferation of the cells that form the lining of the colon, and also inhibited production of inflammation-promoting proteins, while stimulating production of proteins that fight inflammation.
Based on their findings, the authors conclude that GDNP nanoparticles derived from edible ginger “represent a novel, natural delivery mechanism for improving IBD prevention and treatment with an added benefit of overcoming limitations such as potential toxicity and limited production scale that are common with synthetic nanoparticles.”
Ginger contains active compounds against oxidation, inflammation, and cancer, with its therapeutic effect resulting from high levels of lipids (fatty molecules), one of which is phosphatidic acid, an important building block of cell membranes. GDNPs also retained other key active constituents found naturally in ginger, such as 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol — compounds that past lab studies have shown to be active against oxidation, inflammation, and cancer, and which make standard ginger an effective remedy for nausea and other digestion problems.
The scientists note that ginger has been used medicinally for centuries in traditional cultures, as well as in ginger-based supplements such as chews, or the herb mixed with honey syrup sold in health food stores as digestive aids.
Merlin’s team suggests that delivering these compounds in nanoparticle form may be a more effective way to target colon tissue with ginger’s healing and prevention qualities than simply ingesting the root as a food or a supplement. For example, the GDNP approach may allow low doses of the compounds to be delivered only where they are needed — to inflamed tissue in the colon, avoiding unwanted systemic effects.
Another major advantage of ginger, said the researchers, is that it’s both nontoxic and could represent a cost-effective source of medicine.
Merlin and his VA and Georgia State University co-authors elaborated on these ideas in a report published earlier this year in the journal Tissue Barriers titled “Plant-derived edible nanoparticles as a new therapeutic approach against diseases,“ noting that “in plant cells, nanoparticles containing miRNA, bioactive lipids and proteins serve as extracellular messengers to mediate cell-cell communication in a manner similar to the exosomes secreted by mammalian cells. Notably, such nanoparticles are edible.”
“Moreover, given the proper origin and cargo, plant derived edible nanoparticles could function in interspecies communication and may serve as natural therapeutics against a variety of diseases. In addition, nanoparticles made of plant-derived lipids may be used to efficiently deliver specific drugs. Plant derived edible nanoparticles could be more easily scaled up for mass production, compared to synthetic nanoparticles,” they wrote.
The ginger nanoparticle research was supported by the VA, the National Institutes of Health, and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.