Vitamin C as intestinal inflammation therapy

Researcher profile: Ala’a Eideh

It is not new that natural fruits and vegetables can play a role fighting several diseases. Ala’a Eideh is pursuing her PhD in the Human Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Manitoba. She is studying how vitamin C can play a role fighting intestinal inflammation.

Peter Eck, recognized for his researcher in nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics and for being a principal investigator in the area of vitamin C transporter genes, has been supervising Eideh since 2013.

“I crossed the continents to conduct this research,” said Eideh, and international student form Jordan, adding that the area of vitamin C research interests her as a novel branch of the nutritional sciences and genetics fields.

Eideh’s work is an emerging field of life sciences that combines genetics and nutrition together.

“My background is in human nutrition and I also did a bit of research in clinical nutrition, nutritional epidemiology and community nutrition previously,” she said.“My formal research topic deals with the application of nutrigenomics research in order to characterize a putative vitamin C transporter, and finding association of vitamin C transporter genetic variation and intestinal inflammation.”

Orphan genes

Orphan genes are a previously unexplored sector of the world of biology. They are genes without homologues in genomes of other organisms.  Studying the genes holds the promise of advancing the scientific understanding of intestinal inflammation.

Eideh is hoping to determine, at the genomic and functional levels of the sodium-dependent solute carrier family 23, member 3 SLC23A3, which orphan gene is a putative ascorbic acid.On the other hand, SLC23A2 is an ascorbic acid transporter.

“The absorption of vitamin C into the body and its distribution to organs requires two sodium-dependent vitamin C transporters. This gene encodes one of the two required transporters and the encoded protein accounts for tissue-specific uptake of vitamin C,” explains Eideh.

Colon cancerBesides characterizing these genes, Eideh is also aiming to test for novel genetic variations of nutritional relevance that may affect susceptibility to inflammatory bowel diseases. Intestinal inflammation (for example, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) is a growing worldwide, as it can develop in to colon cancer.

“These conditions can lead to several nutritional deficiencies because of malabsorption of nutrients and vitamin C can definitely play a role as a possible therapy,” says Eideh.

Using sequence analysis, in vitro transporter expression, fluorescent imaging and liquid scintillation, Eideh will be tracking changes that might occur in specific portions of some genes and then recording how they affect the cellular intake of vitamin C.

Research outcomes

When asked what would be the biggest potential outcome from her research, Eideh is clear:

“Oxygen free radicals are highly reactive and represent very damaging compounds. Oxidative stress could be a major contributing factor to the tissue injury that characterizes intestinal inflammation. An imbalance between increased reactive oxygen species levels and decreased antioxidant defenses occurs in patients. Ascorbic acid is a well-known antioxidant and the ascorbic acid transporter I am studying would mediate ascorbic acid release at the intestinal and renal epithelial cells. Without the right homeostatic balance of ascorbic acid inside the body, it may be a factor in the increased vulnerability to oxidative damage.”

As our understanding of human genetics has grown, we are starting to appreciate more and more how genes and environment interact.

“Adequate dietary intake and effective metabolism of the antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C specifically, is important, because free radicals have inflammatory effects,” said Eideh. “As a main long-term goal, we are working toward utilizing vitamin C as a form of therapy to treat inflammatory bowel diseases.“And as med-term goal, I also wish to get a nice postdoctoral fellowship to keep doing research after I graduate.”

This article was originally published in the Gradzette.