UK scientists say they have discovered molecules in the body that can protect against the harmful action of free radicals.With further research, the research could potentially lead to the prevention of certain degenerative diseases. Oxidative damage has been linked with ailments such as cardiovascular disease, strokes, autoimmune diseases like arthritis and diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers from the Medical Research Council's Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge found that molecules known as - uncoupling proteins can move a powerful free radical - called superoxide - from where it is synthesised to other parts of the body where it can be disposed of safely. The research team suspect that uncoupling proteins could be an important part of the natural antioxidant system in cells, guarding against damage caused by free radicals and other oxidants.
Researcher Dr Martin Brand says that, by understanding the exact role of uncoupling proteins in cells, new therapies could be developed. "For example, we might be able to decrease cellular ageing by using chemicals that switch these proteins on," he said. "However, we need to do more research to find practical or medical applications of these exciting new findings."