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Black cumin gel eases the itch


Using a variety of cumin, scientists at Shoolini University in India have patented an innovative herbal gel they say can affordably and effectively treat mild to moderate psoriasis.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that can result in considerable discomfort, one a number of skin disorders that affect millions around the world. Sufferers develop red and scaly rashes that itch terribly; in severe cases, psoriasis can cause disfigurement and the consequent psychosocial effects — such as social rejection — can be devastating. There is still no cure. And psoriasis can substantially affect quality of life, even when it only covers a limited part of the body. The World Health Organisation reports that in developed countries, psoriasis affects between 1.5–5% of the population, though in Norway it is more than 11%. And it may be increasing.

There are conventional treatments, including steroid and UV radiation therapy, but they are expensive or likely to produce harmful side effects, including suppressing the immune system. Fortunately, relief may be on the way, in the form of a new gel that is applied topically. The team at Shoolini claim their gel contains a natural anti-inflammatory chemical compound — thymoquinone — which is found in the seeds of the plant Nigella sativa, commonly known as black cumin. It has been widely used in traditional medicine for two millennia.

While the oil of Nigella sativa has been used to treat skin conditions such as psoriatic rashes, according to Dr Poonam Negi, an assistant professor at the university’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, “[The] oil contains low thymoquinone levels, which means patients must apply a lot of it. Our newly-developed gel, however, maintains therapeutically effective concentrations of thymoquinone at the psoriatic lesions.” The gel has been tested pre-clinically for its efficacy and safety though clinical trials still need to be done. In gel form, the thymoquinone more easily penetrates rashes compared to the oil.

The gel is also more affordable. Global sales of psoriasis treatments grow about 7% a year and are on track to reach US$13 billion by 2025. When asked about the likely price of her team’s patented gel, Dr Negi says, “We predict our therapy will cost only US$7 per month in the case of mild psoriasis and US$14 per month for moderate-to-severe psoriasis, which is much less than what existing therapies cost.”

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