Medicinal plants used in traditional healing systems hold great promise as leads for pharmaceutical development or as complementary treatments. However, their appropriate and most effective use requires knowledge of the active principles, their mechanism(s) of action, and safety/efficacy profiles. Moreover, insights into mechanism(s) of action can suggest novel, non-traditional uses for medicinal botanicals. An example of how modern scientific methods can be applied to evaluate a medicinal plant is presented here for turmeric (Curcuma longa L.), a tropical plant used as for its anti-inflammatory properties in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years. Moving from bench to bedside, our collaborative research efforts began by identifying active anti-inflammatory principles in complex turmeric extracts and testing their mechanism of action and efficacy in an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis (ra) as a prelude to performing dose finding and tolerability studies in people with ra using the most appropriate product. Elucidation of turmeric’s mechanism of action has also identified possible new applications for use, including the treatment of breast cancer bone metastases, an incurable disorder.
KEY WORDS: Curcuma longa-active principles · Treatment rheumatoid arthritis · Breast cancer