BENGALURU: Scientists in the city have discovered a compound that can remove free radicals that damage the human body at the cellular level.
Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species (ROS), are a group of particles produced in the body and implicated in a wide range of conditions from premature greying of hair to ageing as well as cancer, diabetes, arthritis and kidney disorders.
The body itself has enzymes that can scavenge these free radicals. These scavengers are called antioxidants. Now scientists have found that nanofibres of the compound vanadium oxide can mimic the action of one such antioxidant enzyme, and fight off free radical damage, including ageing.
“Many antioxidant-based drugs used to control ROS also produce ROS, though in small proportions. So we wanted to concentrate on a mechanism that mimics the natural detoxification pathways,” said professors Govindasamy Mugesh and Patrick D’Silva, who led the research team at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). Mugesh is a professor in the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, and Patrick D’Silva is an associate professor at the Department of Biochemistry in IISc. In a paper published in Nature Communications, they have shown that vanadium nanofibres actually mimic the natural antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
Free radicals are useful when their concentrations are optimal. They help in numerous biochemical reactions, and act as critical secondary messengers in signaling pathways in the body. They are also essential for normal metabolic functions.
However, in higher concentrations, ROS cause cell damage. Hydrogen peroxide is the most abundant ROS produced in the body.
Prof D’Silva said the human body has numerous mechanisms to scavenge free radicals, specifically hydrogen peroxide. “However, when people are suffering from disease, the production of ROS shoots up and the natural scavenging mechanisms are not able to cope. In such cases, we may have to control ROS levels artificially,” he said.
The researchers found that vanadia nanowires possess detoxifying abilities for a variety of cells, but only if they are in nano form. In bulk and foam form, vanadia had the opposite effect: they raised ROS levels.
“It is remarkable that the material that generates ROS in bulk and foam forms can actually destroy them at nanoscales,” they said.