"Vitamin E is nature's antioxidant and people have been trying to improve upon it for more than 20 years with only marginal success. We have taken a very big step in the right direction," says Ned A. Porter, the Stevenson Chair of Chemistry at Vanderbilt. He supervised the development, which was published in the European journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. The university has a patent pending on the new compounds.
Antioxidants are molecules that can counteract the damaging effects of oxygen in tissues and other materials. So far, the new antioxidants have been tested "in vitro" in the test tube. But studies with biological molecules, such as cholesterol, suggest that the new compounds have properties that could make them suitable for dietary supplements. Shortly, Vanderbilt researchers expect to begin the lengthy process of determining how effective the new the compounds are in living animals and whether they have any harmful side effects.
The market for antioxidants in North America is estimated at more than $800 million per year. Even if the compounds do not prove suitable as dietary supplements or neutraceuticals, they could still have practical value. Many materials used for commerce can be damaged by oxygen and so are routinely treated with antioxidants. These materials include plastics, rubber, fuels and lubricants, agricultural feed and cosmetics.
The approach that led to the new antioxidants was the idea of Vanderbilt graduate student Derek Pratt: "The summer before I came to Vanderbilt, I was at a conference in New Hampshire where several presentations dealt with antioxidants. It just occurred to me that this was an approach that hadn't been tried before."
At the time, Pratt was an undergraduate at Carlton University in Ottawa and was working with Keith Ingold at the
Contact: David F. Salisbury