A New Zealand neuroscientist’s research into recovery from brain injuries is set to provide a multimillion-dollar boost to New Zealand horticultural exports.
Dr Jian Guan led an Auckland University study with Otago University which discovered that New Zealand blackcurrants contain elevated levels of cyclic Glycine-Proline (cGP), a key brain nutrient that normalises a hormone essential for overall body health, which has led to development of a new export market.
A distribution deal between cGP Max, an Auckland based company established to commercialise the discovery, and a major food ingredients distributor in China will see the export of more than 10 tonnes of raw ingredients delivering cGP - over the course of the next three years.
In addition, cGP Max has recently begun exporting orders of a new brain health supplement line to other countries including the United States, UK, Spain, Singapore and Australia - having first developed New Zealand as a test market.
The products are designed to supplement levels of cGP to normalise IGF-1 function, which naturally declines with age, but is essential for maintaining body and brain function.
The new Chinese nutraceutical export deal is a welcome boost for blackcurrant growers in Canterbury and Nelson, with the majority of their 4,000 tonnes current crop yield destined for local beverage makers or the quick-frozen fruit consumer market.
Nadine Morris, spokesperson for cGP Max, says health supplement sales in China have grown 500% since COVID.
She says the per kilo returns from blackcurrants used to create a value added cGP capsule are 18 times higher than the sale of the fresh berry.
“We know that China’s population is ageing faster than almost all other countries in modern history.
“As a result, we expect this country to be our largest export market for cGP and our supply of the raw ingredient will see it developed into a range of functional food and beverages in the coming years.
“We are also planning to launch a Tmall store in early 2022 for direct-to-consumer sales of our Brain Health product,” she says.
Morris says a process to extract cGP from blackcurrants and other potential sources of the compound has been patented in over 30 countries, providing IP protection while the company expands globally. She says our climate and alluvial soils in Nelson and the Canterbury plains produce a blackcurrant higher in antioxidants (anthocyanins) and polyphenols than those found in Europe.
Dr Guan says while New Zealand blackcurrants are uniquely rich in cGP they are also exploring other natural sources of the nutrient.
With 14 international patents in her name, Dr Guan’s research has focused on the role of IGF-1 and the impact of cGP in retaining cognitive brain function as we age, along with treating neurological conditions associated with reduced blood circulation which is common in strokes.
“My studies into cGP look at the role this naturally derived compound has in contributing to improved health outcomes for those suffering from a number of age-related neurological diseases. "I have been looking at how a clinical application of cGP can be used to treat diseases commonly associated with poor brain vessel function like stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease,” she says.
Dr Guan says healthy brains are able to continually produce new blood vessels to replace the loss of capillaries (smaller blood vessels) but this diminishes with age.
“When we age the capillary nets which deliver nutrients and oxygen to brain cells are fewer and the brain cells which are undernourished do not function as well and build up toxins, which means the brain cells die off slowly causing brain degeneration.
“The role of cGP is to encourage the cells in the brain to create new blood vessels and taking cGP can assist in the body’s ability to make more blood vessels and improve circulation in the brain. “Studies have shown that those who are older but in good health who have higher levels of cGP in their blood circulation display better cognitive function and memory.
“I believe that if we gradually increase the levels of cGP in our blood as we age, we can help to keep cognitive function normal, those suffering from dementia often show a gradual decline in cGP levels as they age.”