Times Higher award nomination for Dr Jeremy Spencer
Tuesday, 02 November 2010
'We're delighted that this project has been recognised through the Times Higher Awards...Our research provides scientific evidence to show that flavonoid-rich foods such as blueberries and cocoa are good for brain health.'
Dr Jeremy Spencer, from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, and Drs' Laurie Butler and Claire Williams from the School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences have been shortlisted for the Times Higher's 'Research Project of the Year' award, for their work on the impact of blueberry consumption on cognitive function, in relation to Alzheimer's disease.
The project, which is partly funded by the BBSRC, involved academics from the departments of biochemistry, nutrition, psychology and molecular biology and aimed to take steps towards developing treatments capable of reducing cognitive impairment.
Dr Spencer said: "We're delighted that this project has been recognised through the Times Higher Awards. Impaired or failing memory as we get older is one of life's major inconveniences. Our research provides scientific evidence to show that flavonoid-rich foods such as blueberries and cocoa are good for brain health. It also supports the idea that a diet-based approach could potentially be used to increase memory capacity and performance in the future."
Blueberries are a major source of a group of plant phytochemicals known as flavonoids, which were historically believed to act as antioxidants in our bodies. However, this study indicates that rather than acting as simple antioxidants, flavonoids may interact directly with neurons (nerve cells) at the molecular level.
This research suggests that the ability of flavonoids to induce improvements in memory may be through the activation of signalling pathways in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls learning and memory.
Given these potentially wide reaching societal health benefits, the project team mounted a campaign to showcase the work. Beginning at the 2009 British Science Festival the 'Food for Thought' campaign was launched with an event sponsored by the Rank Prize Funds. In addition to a lecture and discussion, the audience enjoyed a 'brain boosting' buffet of foods rich in flavonoids.
The team was also part of the University's exhibition at the Royal County of Berkshire show, where they offered the chance for over 3000 visitors to make their own blueberry drinks using a bicycle powered smoothie maker.
The positive response to the project led to its extension into the study of a wider range of flavonoid-rich foods. The team has also negotiated contracts with PepsiCo, Mars and Nestle to examine the potential of citrus juices and cocoa to impact on human cognition.
Now in their 6th year, the Times Higher Awards represent a unique and high profile opportunity to celebrate the excellence and amazing achievements of UK higher education institutions, and reaffirm the Times Higher's commitment to the two core pursuits of higher education: teaching and research. The awards ceremony is being held on 25th November.