Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Student researcher puts green tea to the test

In the popular press, green tea has become a magic elixir with the power to prevent Alzheimer’s, smooth wrinkles and ward off cancer.

In Dan Linseman’s lab at the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, his team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers has started investigating natural products such as green tea to see if they are as potent as the claims.

Natalie Kelsey (BS ’08) started working in Linseman’s lab as a senior Honors student studying whether EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate), a major antioxidant component of green tea, can protect brain cells from oxidative stress.

In healthy cells, the energy-producing mitochondria are busy producing energy, which in turn creates oxidative stress. Healthy cells make their own antioxidants to neutralize the oxidation process. Aging and disease upset this delicate balance, and this causes cell damage.

Using in vitro cultures of cerebellum cells from rats, Kelsey exposed these cells to various forms of stress along with the EGCG compound. The EGCG, she found, protected cells from oxidative stress but not other insults. This makes EGCG a potential candidate for treating oxidative stress in neurodegenerative diseases. Her study was published in the March 2009 issue of the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling.

Now a first-year graduate student, Kelsey is looking at natural products — broccoli, garlic, grapes and rosemary — for their antioxidant potential. Her early conclusions: Rather than directly acting as free radical scavengers like EGCG, they seem to boost cells’ own antioxidant defenses.

After finishing her master’s degree, Kelsey plans to attend medical school.

“I’ve gotten some really great experience in the lab,” she says. “I had no idea how scientific research works. Now I see how much work goes into something before it ever becomes a pharmaceutical.”

Incidentally, before beginning her research, she hated green tea. Now she is a regular imbiber.

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