A key ingredient in beer could be used to fight disease, according to new research.
The study shows that hops, which give beer its bitter flavour, pack a surprisingly healthful punch with their ability to halt bacterial growth and disease.
Now, researchers say that they are close to synthesising the healthy hops compounds in the lab – an advance which could one day help scientists create medicines without having to extract them from plants.
Project leader Doctor Kristopher Waynant, of the Univeristy of Idaho in the US, said: “When researchers extract healthful chemicals from hops, they first have to determine whether they have separated out the specific compounds they’re interested in.
“But if you can figure out how to make these compounds from scratch, you know they are the right ones.”
The compounds Dr Waynant is interested in are humulones – “alpha acids” that possess anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties – and lupulones, which are beta acids that have equally important but not as well-understood biological effects.
Scientists ultimately want to harness the properties to potentially improve human health.
But before humulones and lupulones can be turned into effective drugs, scientists must confirm that they are extracting the proper acids from hops.
In theory, they can do this by separating the acids with high performance liquid chromatography. But results that way need to be compared to analytical standards which don’t yet exist for the individual compounds.
Dr Waynant and his colleagues are attempting to synthesise a set of humulones and lupulones in the lab.
The researchers start with phloroglucinol – a commercially available compound that is derived from plants. So far, they have been developing multi-step processes to synthesise three types of humulones.
They are still working on tweaking the final step of converting the intermediate products in the desired humulones efficiently.
Dr Waynant and his team say they are getting “very close” to optimising the complete method for producing humulones in the lab following a lot of “trial and error.”
He is planning to collaborate with biologists and medical researchers to develop active agents for pharmaceuticals to treat cancers or inflammatory diseases from the beer-inspired compounds.
The findings were due to be presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
By Stephen Beech