Suncream may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, say experts

Daily Mail | August 24, 2009

The frightening possibility of Alzheimer's disease being induced by suncream is being investigated by academics.

Millions of British holidaymakers use block to protect their skin from the sun every year.

Now the University of Ulster says two of its experts have been awarded £350,000  by the European Union to explore the possible links between the suncream and the brain disease.

They are leading a groundbreaking three-year research project into whether human engineered nanoparticles, such as those found in sunscreen, can induce neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

It follows a 2003 study by British doctors that found some leading brands of sunscreen lotions failed to stop the sun's damaging rays penetrating the skin.

They recommended staying out of the sun or covering up when outside as the best way to protect against skin cancer.

Professor Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist and toxicologist, and Dr Christian Holster, an expert in Alzheimer's, are conducting the latest research as part of a worldwide project called NeuroNano.

The University of Ulster experts will be specifically looking at nanoparticles present in chemicals found in sunscreens and an additive in some diesel fuels - titanium dioxide and cerium oxide - and their connection to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Professor Howard said: 'There is now firm evidence that some engineered nanoparticles entering intravenously or via lungs can reach the brains of small animals.

'Indeed they lodge in almost all parts of the brain and there are no efficient clearance mechanisms to remove them once there.'

There were also suggestions that nanoscale particles arising from urban pollution had reached the brains of animals and children living in Mexico City, he said.

'It has recently been discovered that nanoparticles can have highly significant impacts on the rate of misfolding of key proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

'The brain itself is a very special organ. It cannot repair by replacing nerve cells, the ones you get at birth have to last all your life, which makes them peculiarly vulnerable to long term low dose toxicity.'

The brain had built up some protective mechanisms but a  major worry was that nanoparticles seemed to be able to circumvent them, he said.

'All this adds up to a new field of investigation. This research programme is deeply challenging and entails the gathering of entirely new knowledge in a field - neuronanotoxicology.

'It requires the marshalling of unique expertise, methodologies, techniques and materials, many themselves completely new and never before brought together in the required combination,'" said the professor.

Latest figures show neurodegenerative diseases currently affect over 1.6 per cent of the European population, with dramatically rising incidence likely in part to the increase of the average age of the population.

'There is also some epidemiological evidence that Parkinson's disease is connected to environmental pollutants and it is often noted that, historically, reports of Parkinson's symptoms only began to appear after widespread industrialisation.

'The risk that engineered nanoparticles could introduce unforeseen hazards to human health is now also a matter of growing concern in many regulatory bodies, governments and industry,' said the professor.