Coffee grounds

Scoop of coffee grounds (Photo by KATY TOMEI on Unsplash)

EL PASO, Texas — Your morning cup of coffee might hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. A recent study suggests that treated coffee grounds could be key in preventing the debilitating neurodegenerative conditions. The discovery, made by a team of researchers at the University of Texas at El Palso, shows that these grounds, after undergoing a specific treatment, possess properties capable of protecting brain cells from damage associated with brain diseases.

The study presents a novel approach to treating neurodegenerative diseases (NDs), potentially through a pill. This treatment is anticipated to have minimal side effects and is environmentally sustainable and cost-effective, thanks to the abundant availability of discarded coffee grounds from homes and businesses worldwide.

Researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) discovered that Carbon Quantum Dots based on caffeic acid (CACQDs), easily derived from spent coffee grounds, could protect brain cells from damage caused by NDs. These diseases are often triggered by factors like obesity, aging, and exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides.

Current ND treatments primarily focus on managing symptoms rather than curing or preventing the diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and several others, lead to the progressive loss of nerve cell function and even cell death in the brain or peripheral nervous system. This loss impairs basic functions like movement and speech, as well as more complex abilities involving cognitive skills and bodily functions.

A team led by Jyotish Kumar (right), a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP
A team led by Jyotish Kumar (right), a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP, and overseen by Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D. (second from left), a professor and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the same department, found that caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs), which can be derived from spent coffee grounds, have the potential to protect brain cells from the damage caused by several neurodegenerative diseases. The team includes Afroz Karim (left), a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry; and Ummy Habiba Sweety (second from right), a doctoral student in the Environmental Science and Engineering program. (Credit: The University of Texas at El Paso.)

NDs are characterized by increased levels of harmful molecules called free radicals and the accumulation of amyloid proteins, which can form damaging plaques or fibrils in the brain. Free radicals are known to contribute to other serious conditions like cancer, heart disease, and vision loss.

The UTEP team, led by doctoral student Jyotish Kumar, found that CACQDs from used coffee grounds were neuroprotective in various test models, including experiments related to Parkinson’s disease induced by a pesticide called paraquat. These CACQDs can neutralize free radicals or prevent them from causing damage and halt the buildup of amyloid proteins, without significant side effects.

“Caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots have the potential to be transformative in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders,” Kumar explains in a media release. “This is because none of the current treatments resolve the diseases; they only help manage the symptoms. Our aim is to find a cure by addressing the atomic and molecular underpinnings that drive these conditions.”

Caffeic acid, a polyphenol known for its antioxidant properties, is unique in its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect brain cells. The researchers extracted CACQDs from coffee grounds using an eco-friendly process, which involves heating the grounds to restructure the carbon in the caffeic acid.

Dr. Mahesh Narayan, a fellow researcher and professor, emphasizes the importance of addressing NDs in their early stages. He points out the economic and sustainable aspects of using coffee grounds for treatment, given their widespread availability.

The research team is now seeking additional funding for further testing and hopes their findings could eventually lead to a simple pill for preventing most neurodegenerative disorders not caused by genetics.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Research.

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