Sprout acid focus of Scots study into treatment for Alzheimer's

They are a fixture of the Christmas dinner, loathed by those who cannot stand their pungent taste.

Scientists aim to create a supercharged version of acid created by vitamin A rich sprouts. Picture: Getty Images
Scientists aim to create a supercharged version of acid created by vitamin A rich sprouts. Picture: Getty Images

But the reputation of the much-maligned brussels sprout looks set to receive a welcome boost thanks to a study aimed at developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Scientists at a Scottish university believe the nutritional value of the quintessential festive vegetable could pave the way for innovative drugs that will help those with neurodegenerative disease.

In what has been described as a “supercharged” version of nutrients contained in the humble sprout, researchers at the University of Aberdeen are working on a synthetic version of the beneficial acid created from vitamin A – a vitamin the body draws from a number of vegetables, including carrots and brussel sprouts – which they hope may be used to treat neurological disorders.

In the body, vitamin A is turned into retinoic acid, which then interacts with specific receptors in the brain and plays a role in the development of the human central nervous system. It is particularly important for the eye and brain as the embryo is developing.

In the adult brain, it is thought retinoic acid plays a different, more “focussed” role and there are suggestions it could affect neural disorders, both degenerative and psychiatric.

Now, experts at Aberdeen are set to begin a new two year, £250,000 project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The researchers have designed synthetic versions of retinoic acid that interact with the body’s natural receptors in the brain in an even more powerful way than regular retinoic acid.

Professor Peter McCaffery from Aberdeen’s institute of medical sciences, who is leading the project, explained: “We are basically trying to create a massively amplified version of what vitamin A already does for the body. By exploiting the natural consequences of retinoic acid by creating a synthetic alternative, we hope to be able to create a new therapeutic which could be used to help people with Alzheimer’s disease.”