Rotten egg smell could help battle heart disease and Alzheimer's

Scientists have harnessed the healing powers of the putrid-smelling gas present in rotten eggs

Kashmira Gander@kashmiragander
Saturday 12 July 2014 12:35
A man, unrelated to the study, on his motorcycle covers his nose against a bad smell
A man, unrelated to the study, on his motorcycle covers his nose against a bad smell

The thought may make your stomach churn, but scientists claim that the gas which makes flatulence smell of rotten eggs could be used to help tackle conditions including diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

The gas behind the putrid stench which is present in both offensive-smelling flatulence and rotten eggs is known as hydrogen sulphide, and is highly toxic in large quantities.

But researchers claim that if dosed correctly, the gas can help tackle diabetes, strokes, heart attacks and dementia.

Professor Matt Whiteman, of the University of Exeter Medical School, explained that when cells become stressed by disease they produce tiny quantities of hydrogen sulphide. This is because the gas helps sustain mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell, and in turn keep the cell alive. If this process does not happen, the cells die.

Experts at the University have harnessed the power of this process by designing a new compound (AP39).

“[AP39] slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria. Our results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, mitochondria are protected and cells stay alive,” Professor Whiteman said.

Attempting to prevent or reverse damage to mitochondria is vital to treating a variety of conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia.

Dr Mark Wood of Biosciences, at the University of Exeter, said: “Although hydrogen sulphide is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases.”

The study linked to the findings, which was published in the journal 'Medicinal Chemistry Communications', suggests that pre-clinical trials of the method are promising.

Lab models of cardiovascular disease show that if the AP39 is administered, more than 80 per cent of the powerhouse mitochondria cells survive under otherwise highly destructive conditions.

Professors Whiteman and Wood are now working towards advancing the research to a stage where it can be tested in humans.

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