UA College of Nursing Receives $1.6M Grant to Examine the Healing Potential of Curcumin for Acute Lung Injury

June 19, 2018

People with a high dependence on alcohol at risk of developing serious – and sometimes fatal – complications from respiratory inflammation soon may have a naturopathic supplement that would mitigate their risk factors.

Alcohol abuse is a significant contributor to the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, which kills 114,000 Americans annually.

Alcohol abuse depletes intracellular glutathione, or GHS, a critical antioxidant in the lung. Research has shown that when GSH combines with oxygen, it impairs protein function and can result in fatal respiratory failure.

Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has proven effective as a nonpharmacological treatment for a variety of inflammatory diseases, and an increase of GSH synthesis.

Looking to evaluate curcumin’s effectiveness in facilitating the normal production of GSH, University of Arizona College of Nursing Assistant Professor Charles Downs, PhD, ACNP-BC, FAAN, has received a five-year $1.6M RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Charles Aldon Downs , PhD, ACNP-BC, FAAN

Using a carefully designed murine model in his study, “Using Proteomics to Develop Personalized Health Strategies to Prevent Lung Injury in Model Systems,” Dr. Downs hopes to demonstrate that curcumin reverses impaired protein function to restore lung fluid balance.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome occurs in response to inflammatory stresses such as pneumonia and is characterized by profound inflammation and a build-up of excess fluid in the lungs that culminates in respiratory failure. Although researchers are aware of the physiological disorders associated with the syndrome, current therapies are supportive rather than curative, Dr. Downs said.

“This project is part of a long-term effort that will elucidate the molecular underpinnings of acute lung injury but also will test the ability of a water-soluble formulation of curcumin to prevent and/or treat acute lung injury,” said Dr. Downs. “We hope this study will move the science forward and ultimately lead to the development of potential therapeutics.”

The results could have other wide-reaching benefits.

“We hope this study will move the science forward and ultimately lead to the development of potential therapeutics." ~ Charles Downs

“Understanding the cellular and molecular determinants of lung injury is critical for the development of effective targeted interventions,” said Usha Menon, PhD, RN, UA College of Nursing associate dean of research and global initiatives. “Dr. Downs’ current study is a major and important step toward his long-term goal to develop precision-health strategies to reduce the risk for lung injury and to improve outcomes for those affected.”

"It is fitting that the UA College of Nursing is pursuing this project. As one of the top 15 percent graduate nursing programs in the nation, with a strong emphasis on integrative health across research, clinical and teaching projects, this is an area in which we can have great impact," said UA President Robert C. Robbins, MD. "Integrative health care presents a dynamic frontier as we seek to broaden our treatment resources to include more than just traditional pharmacological options. Dr. Downs' research contributes to the University of Arizona’s goal of leading the world in novel approaches to healthcare research and teaching."

Dr. Downs’ multi-disciplinary team includes co-investigators Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, MD; UA College of Medicine; Janet Funk, MD, UA Cancer Center; Dean Billheimer, PhD, UA Mel and  Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health; George Tsaprailis, PhD; UA College of Pharmacy; Monica Jablonski, PhD; University of Tennessee Department of Ophthalmology.