Study tests effect of cherry properties on brain disorders

TRAVERSE CITY- Research will begin this month on the effects of concentrated amounts of tart cherries and essential fatty acids on brain disorders like Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's, thanks to a $100,000 marketing and research grant awarded to Ray Pleva's company, Cerise Nutraceuticals.

The grant will come from the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Half of the grant will go toward a pilot study conducted by research scientists at the Central Michigan University Research Corporation. The other half will fund Cerise's marketing efforts.

CMURC's role, as a not-for-profit subsidiary of CMU, is to help companies like Cerise Nutraceuticals tap intellectual and physical resources at the university, according to Program Director Brent Case.

Pleva said he's encouraged by the favorable response from CMURC.

"I presented at CMU three years ago and then didn't communicate with them again until our meeting last June. Three weeks after that meeting, Brent Case was up here to visit with me. I'm impressed with how aggressive they are with their lab."

Case said researchers will test the anti-inflammatory properties of active ingredients found in Cerise products on mice. Dr. Gary Dunbar is exploring effects of the ingredients on Alzheimer's and Huntington's, while Dr. Justin Oh-Lee is leading the research on Parkinson's. Dr. Oh-Lee is a former NIH (National Institutes of Health) researcher who has received multiple grants from the venerable government research entity.

"There are a lot of properties to the cherry," Case said. "There have been ample cherry studies done by MSU and others at the university level. What we're trying to do is help Ray scientifically validate the (product) testimonials he's received to move his company forward in its cherry marketing efforts. Our hope is that when we have the preliminary data from the studies, it will lead to further research by others."

Pleva said a University of Michigan doctor is awaiting the results of CMURC studies, and a future collaboration between Ray's company and an institute in Grand Rapids might also be possible.

Years ago, research scientists told Pleva he would need testimonials from consumers who had used cherries for health reasons before he could hope to generate interest from the scientific community. In 1988, Pleva began documenting the health claims of people who were ingesting cherries for various ailments (many testimonials can be found at

Five years and many testimonials later, MSU awarded Pleva his first $10,000 grant, and the balance needed for initial cherry research was awarded from what is now known as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

As for Cerise's current marketing efforts, Pleva will use half of the grant to update his company's web site and do other promotions based on findings of the CMU study.

"The data will be used in our marketing program to target the segments where our products can deliver the greatest effects," he said. "We see this as a first step toward further research and market penetration of cherry-based products in the nutraceutical sector. This will be a major new market for the cherry industry."

Traverse City-based Cerise markets six products that combine the anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherry concentrates with fatty acids Omega 3, 6, and 9, found in highly-refined emu oil and cold-water fish oils. Its products contain concentrates that are 48 times more powerful than antioxidants found in fresh fruit, according to the company's web site.

Those interested in finding out more about Cerise Nutraceuticals can attend the "Opening Day of Skin Season" wine and hors d'oeuvres reception on Nov. 15 from 6-8 p.m. at the Great Lakes Plastic Surgery Center. Vendors will be giving away makeup and skincare products. RSVP at 935-0180 by Nov. 13.