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Grape seeds connected with improving Alzheimer’s treatment

Grape seeds connected with improving Alzheimer’s treatment

April 03
22:01 2013

Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer

Research to stop Alzheimer’s disease has turned to an unlikely source – grape seeds. And the research looks promising.

Biology professor Richard Dixon started working with a research group based in the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York five years ago, when he was head of the Noble Foundation’s plant biology division in Ardmore, Okla. He said he was contacted by Giulio Pasinetti, who wanted to test the medicinal qualities of grape seed extract.

“The issue of polyphenols being potentially therapeutic in neurogenic disorders has been around for many years,” Pasinetti said. “But nobody’s tested it.”

When Pasinetti and his groupdecided to test for Alzheimer’s, they found that a monophenol in grape seed extract, epicatechin, dramatically improved the test results with the disease in mice.

To test the seed extract, the group used three groups: control mice, mice that had been genetically engineered to simulate Alzheimer’s disease, and genetically engineered mice that had been given water laced with grape seed extract, all into a pool with a raft.

Most mice took about 40 seconds to get to the raft their first time in, but the regular mice learned to go straight for the raft after a few trials. The mice with Alzheimer’s disease did not.

However, the mice that were medicated with grape seed extract learned to go straight for the raft.

The group then isolated the compounds found in grape seed extract. Further experiments indicated that epicatechin was the compound that was causing Alzheimer’s-afflicted mice to remember to go straight for the raft.

“On the mouse studies, they’re very effective,” Dixon said. “They are going to go downhill slowly, but in terms of temporary amelioration, it really helps.”

Pasinetti said phase two human trials are underway, but they won’t know anything for a couple of years.

Dixon said that blood work showed that a derivative of epicatechin was able to get through the blood-brain barrier. This is significant because not all chemicals get through to the brain from the bloodstream, Dixon said. He also said other compounds found in grape seeds weren’t found in the blood at all.

The compound that is stopping Alzheimer’s is only made after epicatechin has gone through the mouse’s stomach, intestines and liver, Dixon said. This process alters the original compound into the one the scientists need. As of now, they don’t know exactly what derivative is ultimately making it to the mice’s brain. This is what Jack Blunt, who worked with Dixon in Ardmore and has come with him to UNT on a short-term basis, is trying to find out.

“My area of the Alzheimer’s project is synthesizing the compounds,” Blunt said. “Basically, in the lab I’m trying to recreate what the mouse is doing in the body.”

The scientists and Mount Sinai aren’t able to test on the mice brains because there’s too little of the chemical in question present. In about three months, Blunt will have a milligram of eight possibilities that he’ll send to the research center, where hopefully one will be matched.

This work is particularly important to Blunt because it will be his last as a plant biologist. Next school year, he’s moving back to Ardmore to teach high school.

“It would be nice to be able to say, ‘I spent the last few months of my career helping synthesize the compound that cured Alzheimer’s,’” he said.

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