A NATURALLY existing compound, palm tocotrienol, which promises to protect against Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases, is being tested here now.
The National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) is testing the substance, which is currently already available in a pill form. NNI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Malaysian pharmaceutical company Hovid Berhad to test whether palm tocotrienol – extracted from crude palm oil – works in experimental models of Parkinson’s disease. Clinical studies will be carried out subsequently.
“Our short- to mid-term plan is to come up with a drug to delay the onset of Parkinson’s for those at risk of the disease,” said Professor Tan Eng King, NNI’s Director of Research.
He said clinical trials can begin sooner than usual because NNI already has an existing method of testing tocotrienol’s efficacy.
Mr David Ho, Managing Director, Hovid Berhad, explained how the compound works: “When a brain cell is exposed to a toxic substance, it starts dying a programmed death by shutting down in stages. Palm tocotrienol prevents this shutdown process and protects the brain.”
He said that tocotrienol comes from the vitamin E family. Though from the same family, tocotrienols are very different from the more commonly known tocopherol. The differences are not only in chemical structure, but also in biological functions. For example, tocotrienols have been found to protect brain cells against cell death where tocopherols have been observed to not have this effect. Hovid currently sells a patented formula (with Suprabio™ system) to increase tocotrienol absorption by up to 300 per cent.
Other studies on tocotrienol have yielded positive results, especially in connection with stroke.
One human trial conducted in Universiti Sains Malaysia involved more than 120 people with white matter lesions in the brain (dead cells that group together in the white matter of the brain and are typically a sign of degeneration, possibly leading to stroke). They were given either the compound or a placebo, and monitored through MRIs and blood chemistry tests.
Those who took tocotrienol showed no growth in white matter lesions, said Professor Yuen Kah Hay from Universiti Sains Malaysia, who worked on the human trial, and has led tocotrienol research for more than two decades.
Prof Tan said he was attracted to this project by the evidence of these studies and Hovid’s patented product, which is a natural product. “This collaboration has vast potential and brings together NNI’s focus on ageing and neurological diseases, and what Hovid has to offer. We can move forward as we have shared ideals. This is only a stepping stone. We have many plans in place,” said Prof Tan.
Associate Professor Ng Wai Hoe, Medical Director, NNI, said this advancement will benefit the ageing population. “The impact of neurodegenerative diseases extends not just to Parkinson’s. I am certain this can bring forth many more studies into other neurological diseases of significant global impact.”
• This story was first published in Singapore Health, May-Jun 2016 issue.