Research linking an ingredient in olive oil to a lowered risk of cancer developing in the brain could be shelves, according to researchers worried that severe cuts to funding may scupper plans for follow-up studies.
The University of Edinburgh team’s findings suggest oleic acid, a fatty acid that is a key component of olive oil, prompts the formation of molecules that halt cancer-causing proteins forming in the brain.
Speaking to NutraIngredients, Dr Gracjan Michlewski who led the study said he would love to work on further studies to help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health but was worried about getting funding for such projects.
“If I can get additional funds, I am going to explore the possibilities further,” he told us.
“It is just extremely hard to get funding [from government]. I think molecular biology and biology in general are struggling to get any funding recently.
“We are in quite a good university, so it might be dire in other places.”
Michlewski also suggested that leaving the EU would mean European partners would be ‘less likely’ to collaborate on research projects with Scottish universities.
Funding cuts to Scottish universities
Last year, the University of Edinburgh and other higher education institutions had their main research grants slashed by £12.9m, with the University of Edinburgh alone losing nearly £8m.
The cuts were due to the fact that universities in Scotland only receive public money from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), a Scottish government quango, for research judged to be “world leading” or “international excellent”.
Due to the fact that a larger proportion of the work fell into these two categories, a smaller pot of money was spread more thinly across universities.
Michlewski said it was too early to say whether eating olive oil could help prevent brain cancer.
Oleic acid in other foods
He said further nutritional testing needed to take place in other foods which contain oleic acid. These include other vegetable oils, such as canola and sunflower, as well as nut oils and meat and poultry.
“I am not a nutritional scientist, I am a molecular biologist, we are looking at the basic mechanism that operates in a cell to take it further one would have to definitely complete new studies,” he said.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh scrutinised the impact of oleic acid on a cell molecule, called miR-7, which is active in the brain and suppresses tumours forming.
They discovered that the nutrient prevents a cell protein, known as MSI2, from stopping production of miR-7, helping stop tumours from forming.
"While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer, our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumour-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab. Further studies could help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health,” he added.
Study: Oleic acid induces MiR-7 processing through remodelling of pri-miR-7/protein complex
Authors: Santosh Kumar, Angela Downie Ruiz Velasco and Gracjan Michlewski
Journal: Journal of Molecular Biology