New heart disease treatment could stem from daffodils

Initial findings suggest alkaloids from daffodils could prevent cardiovascular disorders

UK-grown daffodils could become the basis of a new medical treatment for heart failure, as a research project explores the effects of natural compounds found in the flower’s stem, leaves and petals on cardiovascular disorders. 

Initial findings from Agroceutical Products – a pharmaceuticals company that uses daffodils for their bio-active properties – and Robert Gordon University (RGU), with support from the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), have found that specific compounds taken from daffodils have the potential to prevent thickening and stiffening of the walls of the heart.   

When grown in certain environments, typically on higher ground, daffodils produce natural bio-active compounds known as alkaloids1. In this study, three different alkaloids are being tested using cell-based models that mimic cardiac conditions to understand the different impact they have on contributors to heart failure, such as fibrosis.  

The study will provide the research team with data about the most effective compounds for preventing the conditions that lead to cardiovascular problems, as well as helping to refine the way they are extracted from the flower.  

Around one-third of daffodils grown in the UK are currently used for their bulbs, which produce a high-value alkaloid called galanthamine used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The results from this study could unlock a range of opportunities to use all parts of the plant, stopping the stems, leaves, and petals from going to waste. 

Natural products have long been used by the pharmaceuticals sector and estimates suggest that around 50% of all new drugs introduced globally over the last four decades have been derived from nature.   

Kevin Stephens, founder and director of Agroceutical Products, said: “Only a small proportion of daffodils grown across the world actually end up as decorative bunches of flowers, and we already have a well-established UK supply chain that is helping to treat Alzheimer’s. This study could lead to the development of additional medicines that could be transformational for patients suffering with heart conditions, with promising initial findings. It is also about valorising biomass that would otherwise go to waste and working closely with the farmers to maximise the output and the value of their crops.” 

Professor Cherry Wainwright, director at the Centre for Cardio-metabolic Research and co-director of the Centre for Natural Products in Health at RGU, said: “In their purest form, alkaloids can be toxic to humans and animals, but when isolated, purified and prescribed correctly they can be used as an effective treatment for disease. We have already seen a positive effect on the heart cells being tested, with the alkaloids interrupting a sequence of events that could lead to the stiffening of heart tissues and result in heart failure, and look forward to discovering more as we take the concept to the next stage.” 

Liz Fletcher, director of business engagement at IBioIC, added: “If you have ever seen a field of daffodils in full bloom and wondered why they weren’t harvested at bud stage, it is most likely that the plants are being grown for use in the life sciences sector. While using natural compounds for medicinal purposes can offer huge economic potential for farmers in rural communities, it is also a great example of how naturally occurring products can feed into major industries and have a positive impact on people’s lives. We are excited to see how the research team take forward the findings from this collaborative initiative.”  


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