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MediHealth Report Summary

Project ID: 691158
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.3.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MediHealth (Novel natural products for healthy ageing from Mediterranean diet and food plants of other global sources)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Current demographic trends suggest a rapid increase in the percentage of elderly people in all European countries for the next 50 years. Increasing life expectancy of the general population bears the inherent risk of an increase of physical and mental impairments, as well as of age-related diseases (e.g. cancer, neurodegeneration, metabolic complications, etc.), posing a large and ever-growing burden on our societies if we fail to develop appropriate counteracting strategies. According to the WHO, by 2040, the global population aged 65 and over is estimated to reach 1.3 billion (14%) of the total population. Consequently, the prevalence of age-related diseases will significantly increase. In this situation, the concept of healthy ageing, i.e. a strategy that allows people to grow old in good health, becomes very important.
Numerous studies show that nutritional plant-derived compounds are involved in several physiological processes and have been shown to possess significant beneficial effects on human health. Dietary plants, as medicinal plants, contain natural products that demonstrate powerful antioxidant properties and various biological activities. However, even if the beneficial effects of healthy eating are greatly recognized and globally acknowledged, the majority of food plants which comprise the ingredients of the most established dietary patterns haven’t been investigated in depth and consequently the active constituents remain unknown.
MediHealth incorporates all new technologies and methods in natural products discovery and isolation in order to discover natural entities from Mediterranean and global dietary plants, promoting healthy ageing. The main goal of the MediHealth project is to bring to the stage of development novel nutraceutical products or phytotheraputics based on scientific evidences.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

To achieve this goal, a series of more than 30 plant species with potential healthy ageing effects has carefully been selected from the Mediterranean diet as well as food plants from Africa, Asia, and South America. The plants were collected, extracted, and chemically characterized by advanced analytical methods. Based on their chemical composition, literature data, and preliminary pharmacological experiments, out of over 30 plant species, the 10 most promising ones were selected and subjected to a comprehensive research platform including innovative cell, fly, and mouse models for antioxidant effects and the development of age related diseases, as well as metabolism assessment.
Specifically, a three-pronged approach to identify novel agents able to reduce ageing associated diseases and to improve health span was applied: i) The 10 selected plant extracts were tested for potential health benefits in in vivo experiments in mice and flies. Mice were fed with extracts of the selected plant species, and markers for the development of age associated metabolic disorders such as diabetes type 2, dyslipidemia, and cardiovascular diseases were analyzed. In addition, it was investigated if the plant extracts can protect the Drosophila flies from oxidative modifications. ii) In parallel, the plant extracts were also forwarded to analysis in newly established cell-based bioassays to determine their effects on the development of age related diseases (e.g., cellular diabetes models). iii) In addition to the cells, flies and mice models, the extracts were subjected to metabolization studies since plant extracts do not reach human tissues in their native form in most cases. In particular, intestinal absorption of plant constituents, distribution in body tissues, and most importantly the formation of metabolites by the microflora in the colon are critical aspects. Therefore, biotransformation assays were applied to mimic the metabolism of compounds in the human body, including simulation of gastric and intestinal physiological conditions, microbial fermentation in the colon, and enzymatic conversions in the liver. These studies are crucial for the identification of active principles while offering more complete and meaningful information regarding their mechanism of action and pharmacological potentials of the plants.
This triple approach including extensive in vivo and metabolic evaluation, combined with advanced in vitro testing in the early stages of plant extract evaluation is unique and able to offer important and valuable results that will facilitate and substantiate the future development of an agent that is safe, characterized, and exhibits specific biological activity against age related oxidative stress and metabolic disorders.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The results of these parallel research lines (mice, fly, and in vitro assays as well as metabolization studies) will be the basis for the prioritization of hit plant extracts, which will be forwarded to extensive phytochemical and pharmacological investigations. Finally, the lead extract(s) will be selected for further potential commercial use and carried to the stage of development of novel nutraceuticals or phytotherapeutics.
The MediHealth project is based on a strong consortium of European academic and industrial partners together with research groups from South Africa, Tunisia, Chile, and Vietnam, widely recognized individually as leaders in the respective research area. A crucial aspect of the project is the production and exchange of scientific and technical knowledge between the consortium partners as well as broad training of the involved personnel. Science-based collaborations between industry and academia offer advantages to both entities and means by which academic institutions and industry can address global challenges to their mutual benefit and the well-being of society. The project empowers each partner with elements of potential growth through shared experiences and catalyzes the transfer of ideas, new technologies and personnel among the participating members. It strengthens scientific excellence in the field of natural products research and development and increases the competitiveness and visibility of the involved partners.
Therefore, in addition to its potentially very high impact on the health of the European population, in particular for elderly citizens, the MediHealth project significantly increases the research quality and overall R&I capability and competitiveness of all implicated partners and contributes to the enhancement of the competitiveness of the European industries in the area of nutraceuticals and dietary supplements. Moreover, both academic researchers and industrial partners’ scientific and technical personnel will improve the career prospects at all stages of their career by adding entrepreneurial skills to scientific expertise.
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