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Take green tea to ward off Parkinson's

03 January 2013

Mutated fruit flies treated with EGCG (right) move better and preserve substantial amount of brain neurons compared to those without treatment (centre); the normal flies (left) are controls

Assoc Prof Lim (left) and Dr Ng jointly led the study that found the protective green tea component against Parkinson's disease
Green tea could help stave off Parkinson's disease, a Singapore study found. The work by the Department of Physiology at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the National Neuroscience Institute discovered that a component of green tea - epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) - can protect against Parkinson's disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world after Alzheimer's disease. The report was recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Experimenting on fruit flies carrying mutated genes known to be involved in Parkinson's disease, those specimens treated with EGCG were able to move better and preserve a substantial amount of their brain neurons. The investigation determined that the compound activated the protein AMP kinase, preventing brain cells from dying under conditions of stress.

Associate Professor Lim Kah Leong from the Department of Physiology who co-led the study noted that the benefits of drinking green tea have been reported before. His team discovered something more potent, which may pave the way to developing medications based on AMP kinase activation. This can potentially provide faster and more tangible results for Parkinson's patients than imbibing green tea.

Currently no cure exists for Parkinson's disease but drugs are available to improve its symptoms.

Dr Ng Chee Hoe, Associate Research Scientist at the National Neuroscience Institute, jointly led the study. Researchers from institutions such as the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratories also participated in the work.

Moving forward, the multi-institutional team is investigating the effectiveness of AMP kinase on both mammalian models and human neurons generated from the skin cells of Parkinson's patients. The cell line is produced using new stem cell technology pioneered by Professor Shinya Yamanaka, co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.