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IU physics researchers evaluate ways to keep omega-3 fatty acids potent

Physics researchers use Big Red II to assess vitamin E’s ability to protect vital fatty acids

IU physics researchers evaluate ways to keep omega-3 fatty acids potent

Omega-3 polyunsaturated acids (n-3 PUFA) are fatty acids obtained from fish oils that have multiple health benefits. Various research has shown that dietary consumptions of fish oils, which contain omega-3 polyunsaturated acids, can help with cardiovascular diseases, cancer preventions, inflammatory processes, and metabolism improvements. However, it is easy for these fatty acids to be oxidized, and once oxidation happens, health benefits are likely to be lost. Therefore, it is crucial for science to find a way to prevent omega-3 polyunsaturated acids from oxidation, and one possible solution is vitamin E. Currently, this is the focus of Samuel Canner, IUPUI Department of Physics, and his collaborators. Canner explains that currently, the structure by which vitamin E protects n-3 PUFA is not properly understood. He and his collaborators have been hard at work trying to figure out how vitamin E interacts with phospholipids in n-3 PUFA and essentially how vitamin E protects the fatty acids from being oxidized.


Example of simulations obtained through the computing power of BRII

To do this, Canner and his collaborators run sophisticated simulations in Nanoscale Molecular Dynamics (NAMD). These simulations allow the team to better understand properties of the interactions between phospholipids in the fatty acids and lipid membranes that contain vitamin E. The simulations are run using Big Red II, a supercomputer at IU. Why Big Red II? Canner explains if they used normal computational machines, such complicated simulations would take months to complete. Specifically, he said, “Big Red II allows the simulations to be completed in a significantly more reasonable amount of time.” Because these simulations require a large computational capacity, it would take several months using a personal computer. Therefore, Big Red II helps the researchers run the simulations in a reasonable amount of time.

Currently, Canner and his collaborators are still running more simulations and experiments in the lab. Hopefully, they will have more conclusive evidence regarding the roles of vitamin E. Canner is hoping that this research would help science find a way to prevent omega-3 polyunsaturated acids from oxidation, and so protect the health benefits contained in fish oils.