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Grantee Spotlight: Dr. Meena Jaggi - Investigating Curcumin (Turmeric) as HPV Repressor for Native American Women

, by CRCHD staff

Meena Jaggi, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Photo credit: UTHSC

Dr. Meena Jaggi’s approach to cancer health disparities research relies on an item more commonly found in the kitchen than the lab. Her research, funded by an NCI/CRCHD U01 grant), involves the use of curcumin (commonly known as turmeric, a spice often used in Indian cooking) to inhibit human papillomavirus (HPV) infection among Native American (NA) women.

“We want to see whether HPV infection is going down with the use of curcumin,” said Dr. Jaggi. “It has great potential as a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agent.”

Her research targets Native Americans living in the Northern Plains of the U.S. (Minnesota, South and North Dakotas) because of the great cervical cancer disparity there – the incidence rate for cervical cancer is 230% greater in NA women than non-Hispanic white women (16.6 per 100,000 NA and 5 per 100,000 white), and they also suffer from a higher mortality rate from the disease.

“Among this population group, cervical cancer is a big problem,” explained Dr. Jaggi, “But we don’t know why.” The main purpose of her grant was to increase Native Americans’ acceptability of cervical cancer vaccines. “It was a challenge,” said Dr. Jaggi – due to the group’s cultural norms and their preference of “herbal medicines and natural science” to prevent and treat illnesses.

“The use of curcumin can bridge the cultural divide,” said Dr. Jaggi. Her studies indicate that the natural compound inhibits the transcription of HPV16 E6/E7 proteins as early as six hours after treatment and restores the expression of tumor suppressor proteins p53, retinoblastoma protein, and PTPN13. Curcumin is now available in capsule form in many pharmacy and grocery stores.     

Often cancer health disparities are the result of complex factors, including environmental, nutrition, lifestyle, etc. According to Dr. Jaggi, there is a relationship between smoking (which is very high in the region) and cervical cancer. “Native American women in Northern Plains smoke four times more compared to Caucasian women. Some research suggests that smoking can influence HPV infection,” said Dr. Jaggi. She, alongside her husband and co-PI, Subhash Chauhan, Ph.D., found that the smoke carcinogen Benzo[a]Pyrene (BaP) increases the expression of HPV oncoproteins, which suggests a direct molecular link between HPV infection and smoking or exposure to smoke.

Dr. Meena Jaggi and Dr. Subhash Chauhan are currently at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center on its Cancer Research Team. They are also investigating the use of curcumin on other cancers, such as prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer.


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