Ethanol plant waste water contains dementia-delaying compound

Research: News Roundup from the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Saskatchewan researchers are teaming up with ethanol producers to extract compounds from waste water that could be used in Alzheimer’s medication.

Ethanol production creates six times more waste water than ethanol. That waste water, known as thin stillage, contains a compound called glycerylphosphorylcholine (GPC) that can be used to create a neurotransmitter used in Alzheimer’s medication.

“It’s safe and it has a positive effect on people with Alzheimer’s. It’s not a cure, but it’s a means of slowing the generation of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Martin Reaney explained in Agriview, a Saskatchewan government publication.

Reaney is the strategic research chair for Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture. Reaney and his colleagues are partnering with Terra Grain Fuels in Belle Plaine, Pound-Maker Agventures in Lanigan and North West Terminals Ltd. in Unity. Reaney calculates that Terra Grain Fuels alone could produce 1.35 billion grams of GPC. Assuming each Alzheimer’s patient took 0.5 grams of GPC per day, that’s enough GPC to treat 7.4 million patients a year.

More than 500,000 Canadians are living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, and by 2031, it expects that number to hit 937,000.

The research team includes Dr. Kornsulee Ratanapariyanuch, who discovered the compound in stillage as a student. Yunhua Jia worked on purifying the compound and Dr. Jianheng Shen discovered the compound’s structure. Shen still works with Reaney’s team.

Researchers have found other compounds that can be extracted from thin stillage. For example, 1,3-propanediol is a potential non-toxic replacement for ethylene-glycol in antifreeze.

The project is supported through Reaney’s position as strategic chair and through the Agriculture Development Fund, a federal-provincial program.

Reaney has applied for patents related to processing thin stillage. He points out that a byproduct such as GPC is more valuable than ethanol, which underscores the potential of Saskatchewan’s processing sector.

“I think we sell ourselves short when we don’t do more processing,” he says.

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