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Professor Alexander Tups image
Professor Alexander Tups

An extract from dahlia flower petals has been found to stabilise blood sugar levels of diabetes patients in University of Otago-led clinical trials.

A team led by neuroendocrinologist Associate Professor Alexander Tups, of the Centre for Neuroendocrinology, showed that the inhibition of brain inflammation – brought about by the excess consumption of a Western diet – markedly improves blood sugar regulation.

His team then went on to discover an anti-inflammatory plant molecule that acts in the brain and potently improves the ability of the body to process blood sugar.

“We then found that the dahlia plant is a cultivatable source of this molecule and that it contains two additional plant molecules that enhanced the effect of the original one. This specifically blocked brain inflammation and improved blood sugar regulation in preclinical trials,” Associate Professor Tups says.

About 25 per cent of the adult population in Aotearoa have prediabetes – a condition where blood glucose levels are slightly elevated, indicating that a person is at risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes. Without intervention about 70 per cent of people go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

In a randomised controlled cross-over clinical trial on participants with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, researchers were able to show that the dahlia extract considerably improved blood sugar regulation.

In preclinical animal studies researchers were able to reverse brain inflammation, improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin in the brain and improve blood sugar regulation.

The project started with a grant in 2015 in collaboration with Plant and Food Research and eight years on he considers it a career high, he says.

“As scientists, often our work finishes when we find the mechanism of how something works. So in this case finding three compounds that occur in a flower that in combination improved blood sugar regulation was a dream come true.

“Impaired blood sugar regulation is a debilitating condition affecting millions of people around the world.  I hope and I really believe that the outcome of our intensive research will benefit people suffering from this condition.”

The technology has been patented and the research team has worked with Otago Innovation Limited (OIL) and external stakeholders to bring a natural dahlia-extract supplement to the market, aiming to support normal blood sugar and insulin levels.

OIL project lead Dr Graham Strong says the collaboration brings together diverse perspectives, knowledge, and expertise, leading to an innovative and science-based nutraceutical product.

“This diversity, along with our and other stakeholder investment, resulted in the launch of a product we are very proud to be associated with.

“The product provides a unique blend of nutritional compounds to support normal blood sugar and insulin levels. The trials showed that this will be useful for those diagnosed with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes to help stop the progression of the condition,” he says.

Publication details:

A dahlia flower extract has anti-diabetic properties by improving insulin 1 function in the brain

Dominik Pretz, Philip M Heyward, Jeremy Krebs, Joel Gruchot, Charles Barter, Pat Silcock, Nerida Downes, Mohammed Zubair Rizwan, Alisa Boucsein, Julia Bender, Elaine J Burgess, Geke Aline Boer, Pramuk Keerthisinghe, Nigel B Perry, Alexander Tups

Life Metabolism

For more information please contact:

Associate Professor Alexander Tups
Centre for Neuroendocrinology
Department of Physiology
School of Biomedical Sciences
University of Otago

Lea Jones
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 4969

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