Scientists have found that hydrogen sulfide, a chemical which stinks like rotten eggs, can offer health benefits to people suffering from diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and even dementia.

Scientists at the University of Exeter have come up with a new compound (AP39) that protects mitochondria, the ‘powerhouse’ of cells, which drives energy production in blood vessel cells. Preventing or reversing mitochondrial damage is a key strategy for treatments of a variety of conditions such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes and arthritis, dementia and ageing. Mitochondria determine whether cells live or die and they regulate inflammation. In the clinic, dysfunctional mitochondria are strongly linked to disease severity.

Professor Matt Whiteman from the University explained that when cells become stressed by disease, they draw in enzymes to generate minute quantities of hydrogen sulfide. This keeps the mitochondria ticking over and allows cells to live. If this doesn’t happen, the cells die and lose the ability to regulate survival and control inflammation. Their results indicate that if stressed cells are treated with AP39, which slowly delivers very small amounts of this gas specifically to the mitochondria, the cells stay alive.
Dr. Mark Wood of Biosciences added that although hydrogen sulfide is well known as a pungent, foul-smelling gas in rotten eggs and flatulence, it is naturally produced in the body and could in fact be a healthcare hero with have significant implications for future therapies for a variety of diseases.
The scientists are now working towards advancing the research to a stage where it can be tested in humans.
The study was published in the journal Medicinal Chemistry Communications.

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