Scientists have found a way to produce a synthesized compound which may be able to protect the brain. Following work carried out at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida, the research team were able to make a synthesized version of jiadifenolide, a molecule which is derived from plants. Since its discovery in 2009, chemists have been trying to find a way to synthesize this compound as it’s believed that it may be able to protect brain cells from not just neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, but that it may be useful for people who suffer traumatic brain injuries too.
The study has proved important for two reasons. Firstly, for its ability to produce large enough quantities of the compound for it to be a viable option for testing, and secondly because it demonstrates how scientific research has moved on, particularly in the ability of chemists to produce potentially valuable molecules and compounds on a large scale, but at a relatively low cost. While previous synthesis methods have only been able to yield a few milligrams of the compound, this new technique means that it’s possible to make large quantities of jiadifenolide, which can be used for testing in animals and humans, and to ultimately develop a jiadifenolide-derived drug.
The naturally occurring jiadifenolide molecule is found in tiny quantities in the fruit of the Illicium jiadifengpi, a relative of the star anise. This shrub is native to southern China and has long been used in Chinese traditional medicine. While most parts of this shrub are poisonous if consumed, the root extracts can be applied to the skin to treat arthritis.
Back in 2009, a team of Japanese and Chinese researchers were able to isolate minute quantities of jiadifenolide from the shrub, and determined that this particular compound was not toxic. In fact, they found that it was able to promote the growth of axons and dendrites derived from rat neurons in a culture dish. This, and subsequent research, suggested that jiadifenolide enhances the activity of neurotrophins, which are responsible for natural brain growth.
Now that it’s possible to produce jiadifenolide in large enough quantities, the team are hoping to conduct further studies of the compound, including tests in animal models.