M. Dinesh Varma

Experimental research suggests it could be alternative to conventional treatment Research suggests it could be alternative to conventional treatment

Its active ingredient, curcumin, possesses potent antiangiogenic propertiesCurcumin holds out promise as a medical alternative to laser treatment

CHENNAI: Forget facial cream, flavour add-on in cuisine and antiseptic balm: turmeric could play its most important role yet if it becomes ophthalmology's new answer to treat diabetic retinopathy a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness.

Experimental research at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF) has established that turmeric's active ingredient, curcumin, possesses potent antiangiogenic properties to inhibit the growth of retinal endothelial cells, which is key to reverse diabetic retinopathy. The results of the study have been published in the new issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, a diabetology journal.

Though the MDRF research effort has been inspired by international studies that have spotlighted curcumin's role in complementing chemotherapy in the management of some common cancers, this is perhaps the first attempt to examine the role of turmeric's active ingredient in a retinopathy context.

Researchers point out that diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Fragile, thin-walled abnormal blood vessels can develop and leak blood into the centre of the eye, blurring vision.

The gold standard in treating proliferative diabetic retinopathy is laser photocoagulation using light energy to destroy abnormal cells. However, laser treatment invariably leaves behind scars on the retinal site.

"In the lab research that we did, curcumin held out promise as a medical alternative to laser treatment of diabetic retinopathy," said Rema Mohan, principal investigator, MDRF.

Based on the promise of its experimental study, MDRF is submitting a proposal for clinical trials with curcumin. One of the important issues will revolve around the optimum dosage of curcumin extracts in a clinical trial scenario.

In treatment of cancer patients, curcumin has been used as capsules and if used in diabetic retinopathy, the dosage could be much lower, Dr. Rema Mohan said.

More In: TAMIL NADU | NATIONAL