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Sunday 27 May 2018

Welsh farmer helping to fight Alzheimer's by growing high-altitude daffodils to combat disease

WHITEGATE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 01: Daffodils expert Len Tomlinson picks blooms at Whitegate Daffodil Walk at Foxwist Green Farm in Whitegate, Cheshire, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
WHITEGATE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 01: Daffodils expert Len Tomlinson picks blooms at Whitegate Daffodil Walk at Foxwist Green Farm in Whitegate, Cheshire, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Wil Crisp

Welsh farmer helping fight Alzheimer's by growing high-altitude daffodils which have been proven to help combat the disease.

Kevin Stephens, 51, is aiming to become a world-leader in the production of a pioneering drug by farming the flowers on the Black Mountains in Monmouthshire.

The daffodils are grown in order to harvest galantamine, a compound that has been proven to be an effective treatment for vascular dementia and Alzheimer's by helping to ease symptoms.

The process is already used in China and Bulgaria, but Mr Stephens says his plants contain a much higher concentration of the chemical due to the altitude they are grown at.

The farmer, who owns fields at more than 1,000ft above sea level, said: "We had to work out which daffodils to grow.

"There's about 30,000 varieties of daffodil and we found about a dozen that had the right genetics.”

Stephens established his own bioresearch firm, Agroceutical, in 2012 and is now hoping to get the backing of big pharmaceutical companies so he can begin mass-producing the drug.

Agroceutical currently has a licence to produce enough galantamine to help 9,000 Alzheimer's patients every year.

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Mr Stephens said: "We know we can make it cheaper than China and more sustainable, but we can't get to that point where we can produce thousands of kilos.

"We're in this death valley type of thing because we can't get contracts until we show we can make that much but to make that much galantamine you need a contract."

It is thought that galantamine has been used as the active ingredient in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

Modern medical research into the use of galantamine dates back to the 1950s when the Soviet Union extracted the compound and studied its effects after a Bulgarian pharmacologist saw villagers rubbing their forehead with the plant leaves and bulbs.

Dr Aoife Kiely, research communications officer at Alzheimer's Society, while galantamine cannot cure or slow down dementia, the drug has been proven to help ease its syptoms.

Dr Kiely said: "It's fantastic to see people like Kevin doing what they can to unite in the fight against dementia.

To date, research has found the effect of galantamine on the brain to be small but positive in treating Alzheimer's by easing symptoms.

"Sadly though, like other drugs currently available for dementia, galantamine does not cure or slow down the condition."


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