Our Latest News
Autism Research. In 2014 we collaborated with Dr. Andrew Zimmerman (pictured, right) and his team at Harvard University and published the results of a clinical trial with 44 boys and young men with autism spectrum disorder. There were dramatic and significant improvements in the characteristic behaviors commonly associated with autism in the group that consumed a broccoli sprout extract rich in the phytochemical sulforaphane. We are now involved with five follow-up studies being conducted around the world. The results of one of the five, a small open-label (no placebo) study, have already yielded positive results and are published. Our current study with Dr. Zimmerman’s team (now at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center) and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is now drawing to a close as Dr. Zimmerman retires. The team has shared their preliminary positive results on behavioral metrics (standardized tests of social interaction and behavior). Our group at the Cullman Chemoprotection Center is conducting biomarker analyses by performing biochemical and molecular measurements of blood and urine samples taken from clinical trial participants before, during, and after the intervention with a supplement rich in glucoraphanin (the phytochemical from broccoli sprouts that produces sulforaphane in the presence of an enzyme that we co-delivered). This particular follow-up study consists of a comprehensive list of biomarkers (which were not examined in the original trial), and their laboratory evaluation is almost complete. We expect to be able to submit a scientific manuscript detailing the results in the next few months.
Grants. We are proud recipients of two recent generous foundation grants. The first is designated for general laboratory support and has been earmarked for work on development of a taste-masking strategy for Moringa oleifera (pictured, left) in clinical studies, and for the development of methods for understanding, discovering, and improving biomarkers of chronic disorders including autism. The second one is earmarked to enhance our efforts in outreach to the public. We expect to put this grant to work translating the science surrounding our research on chemoprotection against the chronic diseases of modern life into formats, media, and instructive materials more accessible and understandable to the general public. The majority of basic, applied, and clinical science is presently in peer-reviewed scientific papers and, as such, is inaccessible to the layperson. Becoming better at getting the word out will also help in our drive to achieve fully sustainable funding, as more people better understand the benefits of protective and preventive approaches to health maintenance. Among the specific scientific projects in which we plan to wrap this approach is an initiative to develop beverage-based delivery systems for the highly nutritious, tropical vegetable Moringa oleifera. We are also using the funding to advance our work to develop cell phone apps for assessment of nutritional and medicinal properties of plants that are unique to underserved areas of the tropics. We are passionate about helping to make “green chemoprotection” (the utilization of plants and their specialized chemicals in preventive strategies) a public health success story.
EXCITING HYPOTHESIS WITH SOLID EVIDENCE
Alzheimer’s. Dr. Rhonda Patrick (pictured, left), a good friend of the Center, has just published an exciting hypothesis about the nutritional underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease. The back-story for her theory is that individuals who carry the APOE4 gene are at much higher risk (as much as 15-fold) of eventually developing Alzheimer’s than those who do not carry the gene. Further, DHA (a “good fat” from fish oil) is said to have all sorts of positive effects on brain development, cognition, and even on the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Trials have shown that fish/seafood intake leads to improved cognition among those with the APOE4 gene, but there have been no such improvements with people who have taken DHA supplements (i.e., fish oil). Patrick’s theory is that fish oil supplements do not contain the “phospholipid form” of DHA, whereas fish flesh and fish roe do, and that accounts for the lack of effect. It is a very complex paper even for a nutritional biochemist to read; however, it spins a tight web of evidence around this hypothesis. The ultimate conclusion, if further research supports her hypothesis, would be that it is the consumption of seafood and fish itself that is important, not supplementation with various DHA-containing “fish oils.”
BOUND TO FUEL FUTURE RESEARCH
Gut bacteria in the brain. Certain to be controversial, and not confirmed or even published in the peer reviewed literature, a group at the University of Alabama at Birmingham created a stir at a recent Society for Neuroscience meeting that was picked up by Science magazine’s news-feed. The group suggested that bacteria from the gut make themselves at home in the brains of people with certain neurological conditions. Their evidence comes from electron microscope imaging of cadaver brain slices. Guaranteed to provoke controversy for years to come, this group’s report opens the door slightly on an astonishing array of possibilities – and possible treatments.
N.B. This announcement reminds one of us (JWF) of the announcement by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, of the discovery of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. They made a persuasive argument that the organism causes disease, and they cultured it, thus making it available for others to study to confirm its causality (both ulcers and gastric cancer) and to greatly expand on their original observations. Sitting at my new desk at a new job in the early 1980s, I remember noting to myself and anyone who would listen that this short note in The Lancet was going to be a huge deal (biomedically speaking). It was, and it still is. Marshall and Warren won the Nobel Prize for this discovery, and it has revolutionized the way we think about microbes (especially gut microbes) from the spectrum of pathogens, to symbionts, to essential colonizers that promote our healthspan.
A NEW TAKE ON CHRONIC DISEASE
Unblocking the Healing Cycle: In a recent article in Mitochondrion, Dr. Robert K. Naviaux, a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and pathology at the University of California, San Diego, presents an elegant précis of the metabolic features and regulation of the healing cycle. The article builds on Naviaux’s seminal 2014 paper in which he described the cell danger response (CDR), an ancient metabolic process that switches on when a cell is harmed and redirects cellular energy to promote healing. Naviaux posits that at the core of all chronic diseases – including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism – are metabolic perturbations that promote a persistent CDR state and hindered healing. Essentially, Naviaux reframes the way we look at the pathogenesis of chronic diseases – the result of a systematic failure in healing – and suggests that future research should focus on “unblocking” the healing cycle. Non-scientist readers of this newsletter would probably enjoy reading just the introduction of this paper for a refreshing new perspective on chronic illness.
100 Years of Nutrition Research. We were honored to be invited to participate in Hopkins Nutrition 2018: Celebrating a Century of Nutritional Discovery for Public Health. This day-long event celebrated the 100 years of nutrition research in which the university has been involved, starting with the discoveries of Elmer McCollum, a giant in our understanding of the influence of diet on health, and the co-discoverer of Vitamins A, B, and D, among many other key findings. It was a day of celebration and reminiscing about history that brought back dozens of luminaries and alumni who have participated in this research over the decades. The JHU Historian Dr. Karen Kruse Thomas spun the history for us, and Dr. Kelly Brownell provided a fascinating lecture entitled “Can Nutrition Research Change Social Norms and Policy?”. Dr. Fahey contributed a lecture on the essential role of phytochemicals in nutrition science, which covered about one quarter of the last 100 years.
Aquaponics of Moringa.
We have embarked on a project to grow Moringa oleifera, a tropical tree with highly nutritious leaves that also contain an abundance of chemoprotective phytochemicals, aquaponically.
The term “aquaponics” is used to describe the combination of growing plants in water, a process called hydroponics (pictured, above), with aquaculture, otherwise known as fish-rearing. We are attempting to produce moringa leaves as a vegetable crop, year-round, in temperate environments. Thus, we are growing it indoors in East Baltimore on the window-ledge of our labs, in a greenhouse aquaponics facility run by our colleagues at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health, and at a very exciting new high-end restaurant being built in Brunswick, Maine. We are especially excited about the restaurant project, which has received its first delivery of Moringa seeds, kindly provided by Kuli Kuli Foods. If successful at sustainably producing tropical moringa leaves much in the same way that their neighbors are producing [temperate] lettuce in aquaponics systems, it could dramatically open up the markets for U.S. production of what are now boutique or designer imported beneficial plants. More importantly, it could ultimately create added value for these crops as produced in underserved areas of the tropics.
Our Newest Partner
Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, MA, RD
Teresa (pictured, right) is an experienced science writer and health communications consultant who is helping in our outreach efforts. After earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics at Michigan State University, Teresa completed a combined master’s degree/registered dietitian internship program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. During this time, she was Dr. Fahey’s student and mentee. She later earned a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University. Teresa is CEO of TLJ Communications, which serves a diverse clientele, including non-profit organizations, academia, federal agencies, major online news magazines, and others. In collaboration with Dr. Fahey and the CCC, she has published a scientific paper, a review chapter, and a biographical profile of Dr. Paul Talalay, the CCC’s founding director. She has co-authored a book, The Metabolic Dance, and is a regular contributor to the American Institute for Cancer Research website and blog.
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