The nutritional products division of the company announced that through the use of nutrigenomics, scientists have identified a number of genes associating vitamin E with protection against Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease is a growing public health concern as the number of people suffering from it is increasing rapidly. Estimates suggest that around 4.5 million people in the US alone live with the disease for which, at present, there is no cure or prevention.
A number of epidemiologic studies have suggested the benefits of vitamin E in reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease, with one clinical trial showing a significant delay in the onset of the disease in a vitamin E supplemented group. However, as DSM pointed out, the underlying molecular mechanisms remain poorly understood.
Therefore, to help determine whether vitamin E may play a protective role against Alzheimer's, DSM scientists used animal genes to investigate the molecular mechanisms of vitamin E in the rat hippocampus, a brain region considered the principle side of dysfunction in Alzheimer's.
DSM scientists found a number of genes to be regulated by vitamin E - namely those involved in the regulation of hormones and hormone metabolism, nerve growth factors, apoptosis and the clearance of amyloid beta, a significant hallmark of Alzheimer's.
The researchers therefore concluded that vitamin E appeared to have a protective role in the prevention/onset of age-related neurologic diseases, in particular Alzheimer's.
However, it might be difficult to demonstrate a beneficial effect of vitamin E on the disease in humans, because of the severity of the disease, cautioned the scientists.
Studies of diet-gene interactions have been underway for a number of years but until now researchers have generally been limited to investigating one, or at most, a handful of genes, at any one time and single or simple groups of nutrients rather than whole foods.
However the human genome project has provided the background information and new tools that enable researchers to take a much more global perspective.
There are, however, huge challenges to be faced. Many of the technologies are relatively new and still developing or being refined and for practical and theoretical reasons, researchers are having to rethink their standard approaches. Coping with, and interpreting, the vast quantity of data generated is another other major issue. Although specialised computer tools are available more development is needed.
This most recent study was published in Nutritional Neuroscience (February 2005, 8;21-29).