Three ways that Norwich scientists are improving world health
- Credit: John Innes Centre
Norwich Research Park is home to ground-breaking research in many aspects of world health. Here are three stories that show how the scientists’ work will change the lives of millions of people across the globe.
Drug for Parkinson's disease produced in tomatoes
Scientists at the John Innes Centre, located at Norwich Research Park, have produced a tomato enriched in the Parkinson’s disease drug L-DOPA in what could become a new, affordable source of one of the world’s essential medicines.
L-DOPA is used to compensate for the depleted supply of dopamine in Parkinson’s disease patients and has been the gold standard therapy for the disease since 1967. The team modified the tomato fruit by introducing a gene responsible for the synthesis of L-DOPA in beetroot.
This breakthrough has positive implications for developing nations where access to pharmaceutical drugs is restricted. Parkinson’s disease is a growing problem in such countries, where many people cannot afford the daily $2 price of synthetic L-DOPA.
The use of tomato plants also offers benefits for people who suffer adverse effects – including nausea and behavioural complications - of chemically produced L-DOPA . The aim now is to create a production pipeline where L-DOPA is extracted from tomatoes and purified into the pharmaceutical product.
Professor Cathie Martin (FRS), corresponding author of the study explained: “The idea is that you can grow tomatoes with relatively little infrastructure meaning you could scale up production at relatively low cost.”
Dr Dario Breitel, first author, added: “We have demonstrated that it’s possible to use tomatoes as a source of L-DOPA and that there are surprising beneficial effects including the improvement in shelf-life and raised levels of amino-acids that we can investigate.”
Diabetes prevention study shows benefits of weight loss and physical activity
A study, involving researchers at Norwich Research Park, has found that helping people with prediabetes to make small changes to their lifestyle, diet and physical activity can almost halve the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study (NDPS) was led by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and University of East Anglia (UEA) in collaboration with Ipswich Hospital and the universities of Birmingham and Exeter.
In the UK, there are around eight million people with prediabetes and 4.5 million have already developed Type 2 diabetes. The eight-year NDPS clinical trial involved more than 1,000 people with prediabetes who were at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The research found that providing support to make modest lifestyle changes, including losing and sustaining 2-3kg of weight and increased physical activity over two years, reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes for these individuals by 40-47%.
Professor Mike Sampson, NDPS chief investigator and consultant in diabetes at NNUH, said: “We are delighted with the results of this trial and can be very optimistic that even a modest weight loss and an increase in physical activity will have a big effect on the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.”
Volunteers who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 needed for study
A study being run at Norwich Research Park is looking for volunteers who have tested positive for COVID-19 that will help researchers at the Quadram Institute working with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) better understand how the coronavirus disease is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
To do this it needs people who have had a positive test to provide samples of their saliva and stools. That’s because initial studies showed that over 60% of people who were COVID-19 positive had gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting and that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been identified in faecal samples of these patients.
The research team wants to work out how long the virus is present in the stools of people who have tested positive for COVID-19. They also want to see if the virus changes during infection in saliva, the respiratory tract and the gut and, if so, how.
The study is jointly led Professor Arjan Narbad, Quadram Institute and Dr Ngozi Elumogo, NNUH. Professor Narbad said: “We are discovering new information about this virus all the time and it’s important to find out if the virus persists in stools so that we can investigate further the possibility of faecal oral transmission and better design methods for minimising transmission.”
If you are over 18 and have tested positive for COVID-19 and would like to know more about volunteering for this study, please visit quadram.ac.uk/cops/ or email Lee.Kellingray@quadram.ac.uk