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Targeting neurodegeneration to maintaining brain health with soybean-derived functional foods

Principal Investigator

Scott Ryan

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

Parkinson’s Society of Canada; National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Development program (NSERC-CRD); University of Guelph (College of Biological Sciences); OMAFRA/University of Guelph funding partnership

Project Start

May 2015

Project End

April 2020


  • Assess the ability of soybean oil and its fatty acid constituents to block oxidative stress-evoked cellular pathologies using high-resolution live cell imaging.
  • Screen crude oil extracts from soybean to identify those able to activate the anti-oxidant response.
  • Assess the ability of each soybean-derived active compound to ameliorate motor deficits, i.e. Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms, in mice with induced PD.


  • The validation of soybean-derived omega-3/6 fatty acids as functional foods that promote brain health will allow for promotion of specific Ontario soybean varieties as functional foods for brain health in the global market.
  • The understanding of the effect of soybean-derived dietary omega-3/6 fatty acids on Parkinson’s symptom progression will allow us to report dietary guidelines to the Parkinson’s Society of Canada that may improve patient quality of life and decrease health care costs to the province.
  • The establishment of a profile of fatty acids that maximizes the anti-oxidant response and promote brain health will support a soybean oil based Health Claim and will allow consumers to choose a balanced diet that includes soybean oil.

Scientific Summary

Consumer demand for nutritional foods that generate health benefits has driven the food industry to produce a new generation of functional foods. Functional foods are often rich in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, which are known to promote the brains anti-oxidant response. Oxidative-stress is major component of pathology in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD), raising the question of whether a diet rich in omega-3/6 fatty acids can help maintain brain health in patients suffering from PD. The ability of omega-3/6 fatty acid rich soybean oil to activate the anti-oxidant response and protect from degeneration of brain tissue in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s has never been tested; however, epidemiological data on omega-3/6 fatty acid consumption in Parkinson patient cohorts, does support a protective effect.

This project aims to test whether dietary soybean oil, rich in omega-3/6 fatty acids, promotes brain health in PD by assessing its ability to protect from PD pathology by activating the anti-oxidant response. A patient-based model of PD was generated using cutting edge stem cell technology. To build this system, skin cells were taken from a patient with PD and those cells were reprogrammed into stem cells. From there, the stem cells harboring the disease causing mutation were genetically repaired yielding two cell lines, one with PD and one where the disease was effectively “cured.” This system is ideal for comparing and contrasting cellular pathologies associated with disease. Moreover, it is a powerful tool for screening potential therapeutic compounds. To validate the efficacy of soybean-derived omega-3/6 fatty acids as functional foods that promote brain health we will administer the oils/constituents with the highest cellular activities to our PD mice.