An Osaka University researcher demonstrates a new technique for understanding the power of antioxidants to protect the body from harmful free radicals
Professor Kazuo Kobayashi has used linear electron accelerators, sometimes called "linacs," to fling electrons at speeds not previously seen in biological research. When the electrons slammed into water molecules in the samples, highly reactive free radicals were produced.
This work could be extremely valuable for understanding the body's naturally occurring antioxidant molecules and proteins, such as Vitamin C. This could lead to a greater understanding of many uncertain biological reaction mechanisms that include electron transfers.
Not only could it further understanding of natural mechanisms, but it could also help develop new ways to replicate this process to address cell damage with nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals.
To avert damage from free radicals, a circulating antioxidant molecule or protein in the body can absorb the extra electron. For many years, scientists could only guess at the exact pathway of this process, since the transfer of the electron from the free radical to the antioxidant occurs extremely fast, in times measured in trillionths of a second.
In the current research, to watch the charge transfer in action, electrons were accelerated by a linac in a process called pulse radiolysis. Since biological samples almost always contain water, the electrons could be counted on to slam into H2O molecules, leading to the rapid and reliable generation of free radicals inside the sample.
"Linacs are well-known in the field chemistry and physics," Professor Kobayashi explains, "but less familiar to researchers from other fields. Some sceptics thought they are too complex and damaging to biomolecules to be useful. However, this research demonstrates how valuable linacs can be for understanding a wide range of biological processes."