George Thouas & Blogs

Dr George Thouas
BSc, MRepSc, PhD (Monash University)

Profile

George Thouas is an experienced biomedical senior scientist, who has worked in academic research for almost 20 years. He has been involved in a diverse range of fields, including clinical IVF, reproductive and developmental biology, stem cell biology, molecular immunology, tissue engineering, biotechnology and medical device development, and has a comprehensive list of achievements.

Academically, George has lectured to undergraduates and post graduates in biomedical sciences, including reproductive biology, IVF technology and stem cell biology, having co-supervised 12 post-graduate students, including 4 PhD candidates, and trained clinical embryology post-graduates. As an independent researcher, George has worked on ARC and NHMRC funded basic research projects, listed as a co-investigator on 12 successfully funded projects, totalling almost $4M. George has authored and co-authored over 50 publications, including a text-book, seven book chapters, over 30 peer reviewed papers and several conference proceedings. He has been an invited speaker at several national and international conferences. As a commercially funded R&D scientist, George has been associated with several biotechnology companies, including Mesoblast, Vitrolife AB, Cell Care P/L and Cytomatrix Ltd, currently listed as a co-inventor on 6 patents.

George now joins the Max Biocare R&D team, with a keen interest in improving well-being through improved nutrition, specifically in relation to male and female reproductive health, but also in generic health areas such as musculo-skeletal function, metabolic balance and immunity. For this he draws a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and human anatomy; a doctoral degree in cellular physiology and development; specifically in mitochondrial biology, and post-doctoral training in glucose and amino acid metabolism. George is passionate about written communication, innovation and thinking outside the box.


 

Posts by George

Written by George Thouas. Posted on April 13, 2016.

Things you didn’t know about vitamin D

Okay, so you’ve heard the usual facts. Vitamin D is good for healthy bones and teeth, and you need calcium as well, you get it from sunlight and fish, and it might improve your mood. It is even good for expecting mums and baby health. Well, this is all true. But biologically, Vitamin D does a whole lot more. Here, we explore in a bit more depth the lesser known roles that vitamin D plays in brain and body health. Vitamin D is a hot topic in natural health at the moment, so it is worth spending some time to think about how it might benefit your health.

Vitamin D – a bit like a hormone

Well, it is actually a lot like a hormone, in the way it travels through the blood and goes to different tissue in the body, including the brain, heart, intestine, pancreas, muscles, bones and skin. Only it has more localized effects. The vitamin itself is a unique type of cholesterol, and is fat soluble. This allows it to stay in your tissues for long periods of time, but it also takes a long time to build up. The vitamin can easily enter cells and bind to special regions of DNA in your chromosomes. So vitamin D binding has direct genetic effects, making it very important in a lot of different biochemical processes.

Vitamin D and your skin

Yes, it is true, vitamin D lives in skin (epidermis) and becomes an active form by action of UV light produced by sunlight, when it then enters the bloodstream. So short daily exposures to sun can increase vitamin D availability in your body, but it not recommended for prolonged periods due to cancer risks. Your body also still requires a dietary source of vitamin D. In the skin itself, vitamin D has been shown to regenerate epidermal layers [ref] and keratinocytes [ref]. Vitamin D deficiencies may also be associated with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and can occur when there is less available sunlight. People with darker skin are more prone do Vitamin D deficiency, because of the ability of the skin pigment melanin in blocking out UV rays.

Vitamin D in immunity and infection

Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and allergies are all due to problems with your immune system. Vitamin D is believed to be preventative of many of these types of problems. One particular region of DNA that the vitamin D binds to has been found to block production of some types of inflammatory proteins by white blood cells1. Amazingly, Vitamin D also helps fight off infection by inducing the production of antibiotic peptides in the blood. These are proteins made your own immune system that can actually kill bacteria directly2, much like chemical antibiotics drugs prescribed by doctors.

Vitamin D and metabolism

Insulin is an important hormone released by your pancreas to control glucose levels in your blood, especially after you eat. It is now known that vitamin D induces insulin production3. This suggests that the vitamin may be involved in diabetes or metabolic syndromes and chronic obesity. Indeed one clinical study found a direct correlation between increased vitamin D levels and reduced body fat in women.4

Vitamin D and cardiovascular health

Of course, the reverse is true, in that control body fat levels can have long term benefits on cardiovascular and metabolic health, and reduces the risk of acquiring lots of different health problems, including type II diabetes. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Some research suggests that Vitamin D supplements may improve these indicators of cardiovascular health people with deficiency.5

Vitamin D during pregnancy and lactation

Due to the high growth rate of the baby during late pregnancy, expectant mothers have a much higher demand for Vitamin D than normal. Vitamin D deficiency during this time is linked to a variety of perinatal complications, such as high blood pressure (pre-ecclampsia) and gestational diabetes, preterm birth and low birth weight. This also extends to post-partum life, when deficiency can lead to increased risks of infections6. This, ironically, is thought to be due in part to the induction of antibiotic peptides.

Vitamin D in mood and depression

There is some speculation that Vitamin D status may be associated with brain health, and this is often in the context of seasonality. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive condition associated with lack of sunlight, and supposedly, lack of vitamin D levels, although the jury is still out on that. The same theory applies to vitamin-D depleted women during late pregnancy and after birth, in relation to post-natal depression. Again, there is still insufficient evidence of this. Interestingly, one observational study described an improvement in mood reported by subjects that took a vitamin D supplement during winter7. Also, vitamin D levels in vary over the course of 24 hours8, so It remains to be seen whether the circadian rhythm and length of daylight hours plays a role in your state of mind.

In summary, Vitamin D does a lot more than just improve bone health. You may want to consider incorporating it in your daily nutritional regimen, especially if you suspect you may be deficient. In the meantime, take a short walk in the sun – it’s free!

References
1. Zhang Y et al. The Journal of Immunology, March 1, 2012 188(5):2127-35
2. Gombart AF. Future Microbiol. 2009 4(9):1151-65.
3. Alvarez J & Ashraf A. Int J Endocrinol. 2010: 351385
4. Salehpour A et al. Nutr J. 2012 11:78(1-8)
5. Dalbeni A. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Aug;24(8):861-8.
6. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/guidelines/vit_d_supp_pregnant_women/en/
7. Lansdowne A & Provost S. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1998 Feb;135(4):319-23.
8. Rejnmark L et al. Eur J Endocrinol. 2002 May;146(5):635-42.


Written by George Thouas. Posted on April 13, 2016.

Omega-3’s in late pregnancy and newborn life – what’s new?

By now you’ve probably heard about the beneficial effects of “good fats”, the omega-3 fatty acids, which are rich in foods such as nuts, oily fish, shellfish and sea-weed. But they aren’t just great for heart and brain health. Expecting mums are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits of omega-3’s to their hungry little passenger!

What’s going on inside?

During prenatal development, the baby depends on a maternal supply of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (also called PUFA’s), especially in the third trimester. This is when fetal growth surges, and in particular, there is a significant increase in brain development and complexity. Nerve pathways that control vision, movement and behaviour are establishing themselves in preparation for the challenges of newborn life.

One of the most important of the omega-3 fatty acids during this time is docosohexaenoic acid (DHA), which is exclusively supplied by the maternal blood, as the placenta can’t produce its own. Accumulation of DHA begins at around 20 weeks and by birth has approximately tripled! After birth, levels continue to rise in the baby’s bloodstream, doubling in the first 6 months1. DHA accumulates to particularly high levels in the developing brain2, where is assists in making new nerve membranes (myelination), which allows nerves to fire more rapidly and make more connections.

The mother-baby connection

The World Health Organization recommends that newborns should be breast fed for the first six months of life, to allow maternal nutrition of the baby to continue after birth3. This is because there are factors produced in breastmilk that are transferred directly to the baby, to assist in development of its own immune system, including maternal antibodies, which protect against allergic reactions and viral infections. Importantly, the breast milk is a very rich supply of fatty acids and micronutrients in a highly absorbable form, which the baby uses as an energy source for its own rapid growth and metabolism. This natural form of nutrition has biological advantages over formula feeding.

It is well-known that omega-3 fatty acids are transferred from the mother into her breast milk, and DHA is one of them4. Despite the variability in actual levels of DHA in breast milk of the average nursing mother, and how much the average baby consumes, there is growing evidence of its benefits to infant and early childhood neurological and behavioural development5. For one important Australian study6, over 2000 women were recruited to trial a fish-oil based DHA supplement, together with another omega-3 PUFA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), during the third trimester. The study showed a significant reduction in (i) low birth weight, (ii) preterm delivery (iii) neonatal intensive care admissions, and (iv) a 70% decrease in infant mortality. Furthermore, the number of children with below average cognitive ability at 18 months, born from the DHA/EPA group of mums, was over half that of mums who took no supplements!

Omega-3’s and multivitamin supplements

Products that support pregnancy and post-partum health have long been considered important for those with inadequate diets, vitamin deficiencies or in high risk groups. However, it has been estimated as many as 30% of women in developed countries may be vitamin deficient, not just in omega-3’s, but in other essential nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, zinc, iodine and folic acid. So for pregnant women, the potential benefits are shared.

So in summary…

Omega-3 fatty acids are important in baby health during late pregnancy and early infancy. A key role is in brain maturation or “neurodevelopment”. Omega-3’s such as DHA and EPA are certainly worth considering, although based on what we know now, we think they’re a “no brainer”!

References
1. Martinez et al The Journal of Pediatrics l 1992, 102, pp S129-S138
2. Larque et al, Annals of New York Acad Sci 2002; 967, pp 299-310
3. http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/9241562110/en/
4. Van Houwelingen et al., Br. J. Nutr. 1995, 74, 723–731
5. Morse, A. Nutrients 2012, 4, 799-840).
6. Makrides et al, J. Amer. Med. Assoc. 2010;304(15):1675-1683)