A nutritional supplement that was previously produced only in Japan has been successfully produced at UCSB – and faster, too.

Bruce Lipshutz, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSB, developed a method to synthetically prepare the coenzyme known as ubiquinone. The findings were published in the June 4 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The compound is marketed as a “nutraceutical” in the United States, available in health and drug stores over the counter. The National Science Foundation says researchers gave the compound its name because it is ubiquitous, present in every cell in the human body.

Lipshutz’s method is said to be more economically efficient than the current Japanese method of fermentation, as it utilizes inexpensive nickel and cobalt complexes as catalysts. Lipshutz has patented the method and is promoting it to U.S. companies for commercialization.

Lipshutz said in a press release that the compound is produced in the human body, but that production drops off after the age of 20. Its proponents claim that ubiquinone, also known as coenzyme Q10, acts as a therapeutic agent in cancer. Lipshutz also said it is believed to slow the progression of Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The Canadian British Columbia Cancer Agency website reads, “There is insufficient evidence demonstrating that coenzyme Q (CoQ) is an effective treatment for cancer. There is some evidence of coenzyme Q (CoQ) being effective in treating some side effects of cancer treatment, e.g. heart (cardiac) toxicity from chemotherapy, yet may be harmful for patients receiving radiation therapy due to its antioxidant properties.”

The NSF, which made a grant to support the Lipshutz team’s work, said the researchers “kept costs down by using inexpensive ingredients – including one compound derived from tobacco waste – and by reducing the number of steps involved in making CoQ10. The result is a very short and efficient process for making CoQ10 in the laboratory that may finally make nonfermentative production of this supplement economical.”