by Rachel Gow
26th and 27th May 2010
Forty years ago, experimental evidence began to appear showing a special role for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as a brain selective nutrient. Over the intervening years the discovery that the brain and eye are rich in DHA, that DHA accumulates at a striking rate in utero and through childhood, and the now well-known concept that low DHA status results in suboptimal eye and brain development have emerged to establish DHA as a pivotal nutrient for optimal neural function.
We raised the question - How did modern humans come to rely on a dietary source of DHA? We further suggested that DHA has been a prominent component of the visual and nervous systems since the Cambrian explosion of oxidative metabolism and animal evolution 600 million years ago. Session one on DHA and human evolution explored the concept that the food fatty acid quality, not sheer quantity of calories and protein, facilitated the runaway expansion of the human brain. The key to cerebral expansion was the use of the aquatic food system reflecting the fact that the brain evolved in the sea 500-600 million years ago using DHA.
Over that whole stretch of vertebrate evolution no other molecule replaced DHA in its pivotal role in the structure and function of visual and neural signalling systems, DHA is poorly available from the land food web, hence the collapse of brain size relative to the body as land mammals evolved bigger and bigger bodies.
Sessions two and three discussed the discovery of the metabolic factors governing polyunsaturated fatty acid nutrition, evidence that development and long term brain and cardiovascular health depend on a dietary supply of DHA and the emerging role of DHA as a precursor for potent lipid mediators. Sessions four and five outlined molecular and translational science underlying the role of DHA in prevention and maintenance of brain health, and concluded with a discussion of the challenges for supply of seafood, the richest food source of DHA.
Lord Hameed of Hampstead, in his welcome address, challenged the audience with the stark fact that brain disorders have overtaken all other burdens of ill health combined. That the threat posed by poor nutrition represents the greatest extant challenge to human progress.
The presentations over a day and half outlined a wealth of evolutionary, metabolic and phylogenetic data, showing the strength of evidence on control of gene expression, of neurogenesis and neuroprotection. They explained the diverse impacts of poor maternal nutrition with lack of fetal DHA on brain development, with consequences in learning and behavioural pathologies. The sum of this evidence pointed to omega-3 DHA as a key diet component for the origin, current and future of the human species,
Consolidating and celebrating our knowledge of DHA was hoped to inspire action to preserve and restore marine resources and the marine-to-human food chain.
Over 255 people attended this meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine and Chandos House over the 2-day period. The attendees were made up of a diverse background of research and professional interests. These included molecular biologists, nutritional scientists, allied health professionals, biochemists, researchers in genomics, lipidomics and developmental neurobiology, immunologists, anthropologists, paleobiologists, geochemists, healthcare professionals, neuroscientists, PhD students, zoologists, industry - including the chief inspector of Billingsgate, various pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies; psychiatrists, biophysicists, psychologists, food scientists, pharmacists, members of the House of Lords and not excluding the celebrity seafood chef Rick Stein.
This event commenced on Wednesday 26th May 2010 with The Lord Hameed of Hampstead's speech on the necessity for research on cerebral palsy and allied brain disorders. This was followed by further presentations in the role of DHA nutrition in the evolution of the human brain including the coastal origins of Homo sapiens. The scientific evidence base for the role of DHA in gene transcription, neurogenesis, neurite outgrowth, vision and cognition were discussed on Thursday 27th May 2010. The meeting ended with a discussion of the future and global implications. Professor Michael Crawford had in 1972 predicted a rise in brain disorders in 1972 following the increase in heart disease (the rationale being that bad fats cause heart disease and the brain is also dependent on good fat but is better protected than the arteries). Despite this prediction, no real action was taken even though the claim was taken up at a joint meeting by both the FAO and WHO in 1978. Dr Jo Nurse of the department of health has calculated the current cost of mental ill health in 2007 at £77 billion in the U.K. alone. It is thought that this rise in brain disorders currently represents the most serious threat to mental health and humanity. Following the DHA Celebration Meeting a debate took place on the 14th June 2010 at The House of Lords titled "The prevention of developmental disorders of the brain" hosted and chaired by Lord Hameed.
Hospitality included a Welcome Reception at Chandos House (canapés, an oyster bar and champagne/drinks, donated by Thierry Le Rond from Nutrilys), breakfast and lunch c/o the RSM, the gala dinner by the celebrity seafood chef Rick Stein and his team for which the wild Alaskan salmon were donated by Randy Hartnell of Vital Choice Foods, and a finale by an African music and dance agency. A substantial part of the budget was also spent on the month long exhibition at the RSM library (26th May - 26th June 2010). Thanks were extended to the several munificent sponsors and for the generous loan of artifacts from Dr Ian Tattersall (curator in the division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History in New York), Dr Kathlyn Stewart (research scientist Paleobiology Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada), Dr Laurence Harbige (Reader in the school of sciences, University of Medway Campus, Kent), Professor Stephen Cunnane (University of Sherbrooke), Professor Crawford who donated the skull of the Taung Child and several other fossils and David Marsh (co-author of The Driving Force: Food, Evolution and the Future) who identified in Darwin's 6 editions of the "Origin" his belief in the higher power of the "conditions of existence" (environment) over natural selection and Elaine Morgan, author, researcher and advocate of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.
(above) Wall of Honour and Name plate outside the RSM library
At the end of the conference Professor John Betteridge, Dean of the Royal Society of Medicine spoke at some length about the achievements of Professor Michael Crawford and his research at the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition (IBCHN: the research institute that Michael created at London Metropolitan University). Personal friends, colleagues and students raised the funds for Michael's name to be added to the Wall of Honour in the glass atrium wall. There was also a citation for him in the form of a nameplate positioned outside the RSM library. Following these honours, Professor Nicholas Bazan made a speech and gave a presentation which commented on their personal friendship and mutual research interests. Nicholas proceeded to present Michael with a Glass Fleur-De-Lis from the University of Louisiana in recognition of his work.
The citations are as follows:
(1) from the University of Louisiana, New Orleans. Center for Recognition in Neuroscience and Medicine:
Recognizing --Michael Angus Crawford.
"For outstanding contribution to maternal nutrition and the evolutionary significance of omega 3 fatty acids, and for his remarkable academic leadership" signed by the Chancellor, Dean and Director of the Neuroprotection Centre of Excellence of the University of Louisiana.
The name plate outside the RSM library:
"Whose insights, dynamism and perseverance led to the recognition of the critical role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in brain function, with admiration from his colleagues, friends and students."
The organizers (Rachel V. Gow, Professor Stephen Cunnane, Professor Tom Brenna, Professor Nicholas Bazan, Professor Michael Crawford and Professor Kebreab Ghebremeskel) would like to thank everyone involved for their generous and various contributions to this meeting which in turn made it a memorable event for everyone involved.
The organizers would like to thank the outstanding individual contribution towards the event and to express that their assistance was gratefully received: David Marsh, Dr Laurence Harbige, Professor Kathy Stewart, Dr Ian Tattersall, Wiley Publishers, Tom Wheeler from Front row Creative, the African Music Agency, Brooke Boyanton, Malcolm Gilles, Cedric Hassall, John Betteridge, John Stein, Rick Stein and his team including Viv Taylor, Mark Puckey and Stuart Pate, Simon Cromack and his team at Eventuate, Stephanie Matson and her colleagues at Pegasus, Randy Hartnell - President of Vital Choice, Stephen Kavanagh from Gaia Biotechnology Limited, Georgina Millar, Jade King, Craig Wallace, Costas Kokogias, Kevin McLoughlin, and all the staff involved at the Royal Society of Medicine, Rosana Cabello-Moruno, Allain Amador Bueno and the students from the IBCHN, the McCarrison Society (http://www.mccarrisonsociety.org.uk/), all our speakers and chairs who traveled from practically every corner of the globe to participate and of course the kind generosity of all our sponsors without whom this event would not have been possible.
Authored by: Rachel V. Gow on behalf of The Mother and Child Foundation
Forthcoming event following the DHA Celebration
The international Seafood and Health Conference and Exhibition, 6 - 10th November 2010
[We are extremely grateful to Rachel Gow for her immense achievement in organizing the Secretariat for this meeting: that she received over 250 messages of thanks and appreciation after the event speaks volumes. Ed.]