A compound found in olive oil may help to prevent cancer developing in the brain, according to a scientific study.

Research into oleic acid, the primary ingredient in olive oil, has shown how it can help to prevent cancer-causing genes from functioning in cells.

The oily substance - one of a group of nutrients known as fatty acids - stimulates the production of a cell molecule whose function is to prevent cancer-causing proteins from forming, experts said.

The study team at the University of Edinburgh said it is too soon to say whether eating olive oil in your diet can help to prevent brain cancer.

However, they said their findings do point towards possible therapies based on the oil to prevent brain cancer from occurring.

Dr Gracjan Michlewski, of the university's school of biological sciences, who led the study, said: "While we cannot yet say that olive oil in the diet helps prevent brain cancer, our findings do suggest that oleic acid can support the production of tumour-suppressing molecules in cells grown in the lab.

"Further studies could help determine the role that olive oil might have in brain health."

The scientists analysed the effect of oleic acid on a cell molecule, known as miR-7, which is active in the brain and is known to suppress the formation of tumours.

They found that oleic acid prevents a cell protein, known as MSI2, from stopping production of miR-7.

In this way, the olive oil component supports the production of miR-7, which helps prevent tumours from forming.

The team made their discoveries in tests on human cell extracts and in living cells in the lab.

The study, published in the Journal of Molecular Biology, was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.