Spent coffee grounds may protect brain from neurodegenerative disease
With around six million tons of spent coffee grounds discarded each year, much of that dumped into landfills, there's growing interest in repurposing the everyday by-product for other uses, such as creating new sustainable materials.
University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) researchers have ventured down an entirely different path, deriving caffeic-acid Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs) from the grounds, which may have the potential to shield brain cells from the microbiological attacks that can lay the foundations of neurodegenerative disease.
“Caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots have the potential to be transformative in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders,” said lead researcher Jyotish Kumar. “This is because none of the current treatments resolve the diseases; they only help manage the symptoms. Our aim is to find a cure by addressing the atomic and molecular underpinnings that drive these conditions.”
While genetics play a major role in neurodegenerative disease, lifestyle and environmental factors can hugely contribute to the loss of neurons in specific areas of the brain that then develop into conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Those factors include overactivity of free radicals, the harmful molecules that also have a hand in cancer and heart disease, and the aggregation of amyloid-forming protein fragments. These can form plaques in the brain, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer's progression.
In cell samples, the researchers found that CACQDs removed free radicals or blocked them from having an influence, and inhibited the aggregation of amyloid-forming proteins. Importantly, CACQDs did not appear to have any negative impacts on the cells.
If this benefit could translate to preventative treatment, it could keep patients away from the tipping point of disease progression.
“It is critical to address these disorders before they reach the clinical stage,” said Mahesh Narayan, a professor at UTEP. “At that point, it is likely too late. Any current treatments that can address advanced symptoms of neurodegenerative disease are simply beyond the means of most people. Our aim is to come up with a solution that can prevent most cases of these conditions at a cost that is manageable for as many patients as possible.”
Caffeic acid is a polyphenol compound, which has known antioxidant properties. It can also penetrate the all-important blood-brain barrier, which is key to delivering cellular protection to the very site that requires it.
As well as the spent coffee grounds being a sustainable source of caffeic acid, the CACQDs are produced via environmentally friendly ‘green chemistry.’ Coffee grounds are ‘cooked’ at 200 °F (93 °C) for four hours, in order to reorient the caffeic acid carbon structure for the CACQDs. And given the amount of coffee grounds discarded annually, the source material offers sustainability and scalability.
While still early days, the team are hopeful that further research will confirm early testing and that, one day, something as simple as a CACQDs pill could provide the human brain with an invisible shield to protect against non-genetic neurodegenerative disease.
This is the second study in recent months to find a surprising brain-health benefit from coffee products. In September, researchers identified a compound in green coffee beans, trigonelline, which shows promise in helping to maintain memory and cognitive function in aging brains.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.
Source: University of Texas El Paso