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New antioxidants

Chemists have developed a new antioxidants that are up to 100 times more effective than Vitamin E.

health and fitness Updated: Feb 02, 2004 19:43 IST

An international team of chemists has developed a new family of antioxidants that are up to 100 times more effective than Vitamin E.

"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," said 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, according to a report in Exploration.

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. 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.

Vitamin E, whose chemical name is a - tocopherol, is a phenol: It contains a ring made of six carbon atoms with a hydroxyl group (OH) attached. Ingold, among others, had tried to make better antioxidants by attaching a nitrogen atom to the carbon ring. Theoretically, these molecules should be stronger antioxidants but they proved to be impractical because they were unstable in air.

In addition to attaching a nitrogen atom to the ring, Pratt's idea was to substitute a nitrogen atom for one of the carbon atoms in the ring itself. With both substitutions he predicted that the resulting molecules, called pyridinols, should be more stable in air.

Next Pratt had to address the question of whether the resulting molecules would be effective antioxidants. He did so by analyzing the properties of existing antioxidants to determine what made them effective. Once he had done this, he performed a theoretical analysis to determine whether pyridinols should also have these properties. When his analysis confirmed that they should "the pace really picked up," he noted.

In order to assess their effectiveness as antioxidants, the Vanderbilt chemists sent samples to Luca Valgimigli in Professor. G. F. Pedulli's lab at the University of Bologna. Valgimigli determined that the best pyridinols the Vanderbilt chemists had created are as much as 100 times more effective than vitamin E.

First Published: Feb 02, 2004 19:43 IST