It has long been proven that people who follow a Mediterranean diet and keep physically and mentally active are less likely to suffer from dementia. Olives in particular appear to play a key role in this regard. But just what are the substances contained in these small, oval fruit that are so valuable? This is what a Hessen-based group of researchers from the Goethe University Frankfurt, the Technical University (TU) of Darmstadt and Darmstadt company N-Zyme BioTec GmbH intends to find out. The three-year project “NeurOliv” has a project volume of 1.3 million Euros and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the high-tech initiative "KMU-innovativ Biochance".
This collaboration combines a number of approaches, the initiative of which came from N-Zyme BioTec GmbH. The aim is to use substances contained in olives to develop new functional food for the ageing society, which will protect against Alzheimer’s disease. “We want to test whether olive polyphenols can even help to cure the disease. This is why we believe our products also relate to the pharmaceutical sector”, says Dr. Joachim Tretzel, Managing Director of N-Zyme BioTec GmbH. The high-tech initiative of the German government was set up to fund small and medium-sized enterprises.
The team, led by Prof. Heribert Warzecha of the Department of Biology of TU Darmstadt, is examining the development of new biotechnological processes designed to extract specific plant substances. With the relevant genetic information, bacterial cultures are said to help bring out substances in a pure and defined form. “Our new techniques make it easier to extract substances from olive leaves and significantly improve low yields“, explains Warzecha. “When it comes to production, this means we aren’t dependent on the seasonal harvesting of olives in growing areas”, adds Dr. Stefan Marx, also Managing Director of N-Zyme BioTec.
The “nutritional-neuroscience” working group of Dr. Gunter Eckert, food chemist and private lecturer at the Goethe University Frankfurt (GU), will test the effectiveness of these biotechnologically produced olive substances. Firstly, olive substances will be tested in cell culture models, which may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. “We focus on changes to the power houses of nerve cells (mitochondria), which change early on in Alzheimer’s disease”, says Eckert. The most active compounds should then demonstrate in a mouse model of the disease that they can improve brain function.
“We are testing the hypothesis that certain polyphenols from olives slow down disease processes in the brain, improve mitochondrial dysfunction and, as a result, provide evidence to suggest they protect against Alzheimer’s disease”, explains pharmacological expert Eckert, summarizing the objective of his research. GU researchers have been awarded funding of 288,000 Euros for the project. In another research project, Eckert is examining the relationship between diet and exercise with regard to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.