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

The five-year National Institutes of Health grant will enable Charles Downs, PhD, to study whether the non-pharmacological supplement curcumin can prevent lung injury.

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.

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.

“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.

Research reported in this release was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant No. 1R01NR016957.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About the University of Arizona College of Nursing

Established in 1957, the University of Arizona College of Nursing has been transforming nursing education, research and practice for 60 years to help people build better futures. Consistently ranked among the best programs in the nation, the college is strengthening health care’s largest workforce and the public’s most trusted profession through its undergraduate and graduate programs, offered online and on-campus in Tucson and Phoenix. Headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., where integrative health has been pioneered, the UA College of Nursing is home to the world’s only Integrative Nursing Faculty Fellowship. With key focal strengths in integrative health, cancer prevention and survivorship, and nursing informatics, the college has more than 7,000 alumni worldwide promoting health and wellness in their workplaces and communities. For more information: www.nursing.arizona.edu

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