Curcumin is the deliciously warm, earthy spice that gives Indian curry its distinct flavor. It is also the ingredient that gives curry and mustard their bright, yellow color. It also has incredible healing powers, according to one Dr. Chawnshang Chang, Ph.D., director of the George Whipple Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Dr. Chang is one of many researchers around the world investigating the potential health benefits of compounds related to curcumin. Two dozen patents, dating, back to 2004, have been issued to the University for Chang’s work with these compounds. Patents related to curcumin have also been issued in China, Europe, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia, as well as the United States.

This latest patent focuses on the potential for curcumin compounds to fight prostate, bladder, liver and other forms of cancer related to male hormones, as well as other androgen-related conditions like acne, baldness, enlarged prostate, and excessive growth of body hair. Those conditions and others involve the androgen receptor, which is best known as the molecule through which the hormone testosterone acts in both men and women.

So how do curcumin compounds help these conditions? Chang recalls as a child growing up in China that ginger, a family of spices that includes curcumin was widely used as a folk remedy for male-pattern baldness. He later became an expert on the androgen receptor. Today he and other scientists have shown that compounds related to curcumin exert powerful healing effects through this receptor.

Chang is developing curcumin related-molecules known as “androgen receptor degradation enhancers” that would degrade the androgen receptor. He hopes to develop compounds that treat conditions like prostate cancer and acne more effectively, with fewer side effects, than current therapies.