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Scientists unlock mystery surrounding DHA

A study by researchers from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have found that the transporter protein Mfsd2a carries DHA to the brain.

SINGAPORE: It is widely believed that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is good for the brain, but how it is absorbed by the brain has been unknown.

That is - until now.

A study by researchers from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have found that the transporter protein Mfsd2a carries DHA to the brain.

Their findings have widespread implications on how DHA functions in human nutrition, Duke-NUS said in a statement.

It is widely known that DHA is as an essential dietary nutrient that can be obtained from seafood and marine oils.

It is thought to be crucial to the brain's function, but the mechanics of how the brain absorbs the fatty acid has remained elusive.

Associate Professor David L Silver of Duke-NUS, senior author of the research, explained the importance of unlocking this mystery.

"If we could show the link by determining how DHA gets into the brain, then we could use this information to more effectively target its absorption and formulate an improved nutritional agent," he said.

The findings, published online in Nature this week, marks the first time a genetic model for brain DHA deficiency and its functions in the brain have been made available, Duke-NUS said.

"Our findings can help guide the development of technologies to more effectively incorporate DHA into food and exploit this pathway to maximise the potential for improved nutritionals to improve brain growth and function.

"This is especially important for pre-term babies who would not have received sufficient DHA during fetal development," said Dr Silver, who is from the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Programme at Duke-NUS.

The study was led by post-doctoral fellow Long N Nguyen of Duke-NUS.

In addition to Dr Silver and Dr Nguyen, study authors include experts from Duke-NUS and the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. 

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