High Force Research hit the headlines over Christmas, a research project we’d been working on proved to be news worth sprouting about!

The biotechnology project, which is being led by a team of scientists at the University of Aberdeen in conjunction with Durham University and ourselves, is researching a synthetic version of retinoic acid usually created from vitamin A – a vitamin most commonly found in a number of vegetables, including carrots and sprouts – which it is hoped 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. Retinoic acid is particularly important for the eye and brain as the embryo is developing and in the adult brain is thought to affect degenerative and psychiatric neural disorders.

Our own scientists, along with a few from the University of Aberdeen and Durham University have collaborated to design a synthetic version of retinoic acid that interacts with the body’s natural receptors in the brain in an even more powerful way than regular retinoic acid.

Professor Peter McCaffery, who is leading the project said: “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.

“There are other projects of a similar nature but they are focussed on different receptors and we are confident that our compound will prove to be more successful. Added to that, our unique screening process is an exciting innovation which should increase the efficiency of the process and could have implications beyond this particular project.”

Professor McCaffery will work alongside Dr Iain Greig and Professor Bettina Platt at the University of Aberdeen and Professor Andrew Whiting from the Durham University. The team is set to begin a new two year, £250,000 project funded by theBiotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to test the synthetic retinoids. It is hoped the research will contribute towards the development of therapeutics – primarily for Alzheimer’s but potentially Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

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