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University of Louisville researchers published their findings June 11 that show red table grapes produce substances that can help a colon keep functioning even when colitis is present.
The team fed one group of laboratory mice the microscopic substance and then chemically induced colitis in two groups of mice – the ones with and the ones without the substance – over the course of several days. The ones with the substance lasted twice as long as the ones without it.
The red table grape substance is an exosome nanoparticle not visible by the naked eye. Until now, these nanoparticles were thought to exist only in humans. This is their first discovery in an edible plant.
The substance was isolated by UofL scientist Huang-ge Zhang and other colleagues from UofL, the Louisville Veterans Administration Medical Center, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Kansas State University. The findings were published in the Nature Publishing Group’s journal Molecular Therapy.
Researchers also found that when they stopped giving the mice the nanoparticles, called GELNs, they quickly died from the colitis. “Withdrawing administration of the chemically induced colitis signified that the GELNs were acting upon the intestinal tract to protect itself from disease,” said Zhang.
“The choices we make in selecting fruits and vegetables to eat today were passed down from generation to generation as favorable and nutritious for the human body,” he said. “So it makes sense for us to consider that eatable plants could help induce our own stem cells to protect us from disease.”
This isn’t the first time Zhang has identified nanoparticles in plants. In May, another research team he helped lead uncovered a way to create nanoparticles using natural lipids from grapefruit and showed how the grapefruit-derived substances can be used to deliver therapeutic agents with fewer adverse effects than drugs that are contained in synthetic lipids.
As was the case with his research using grapefruit, the grapes he used were the same type consumers buy every day, he said. “We purchased California grapes from area stores – Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer and others. They were not specially grown for us. We didn’t even use organic grapes,” he said.
While the research is promising, he emphasized that it is early, basic research. “It may not hurt most people to increase their consumption of grapes, but they should know that we have much more work to do before we can definitively say what quantities and types can help prevent disease,” Zhang said.
“I do believe we have opened up a brand new avenue of research. It is conceivable that other types of cells can take on GELNs, and we can possibly see their positive effects in other diseases such as cancer.”
The research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Louisville Veterans Administration Medical Center Merit Review Grants and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.