Seaweed pill could help beat arthritis thanks to potent anti-inflammatory effect
07:45 GMT, 25 May 2012
A pill made from seaweed could one day help treat the painful joint disorder arthritis.
Scientists found a 'nuisance' seaweed that has been destroying coral reefs in Hawaii produces a chemical with powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
It could be used in future medicines to treat other chronic diseases from cancer to heart trouble.
The dark patches are seaweed blooms found to release a chemical causing the coral to bleach. The chemical has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties
The seaweed is packed with tiny photosynthetic organisms called 'cyanobacterium' which also produce compounds that have shown promise in combating bacterial infections.
Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego first discovered the organism in 2008 off the Kona coast of Hawaii.
They took samples from the seaweed blooms in 2009 as they were overgrowing and smothering the corals underneath. They were also releasing a chemical that was causing the corals to bleach.
Tests on this chemical revealed some surprising results – the seaweed was generating natural products known as honaucins, which had potent anti-inflammation and bacteria-controlling properties.
Researcher Professor William Gerwick said: 'In different arenas these compounds could be helpful, such as treating chronic inflammatory conditions for which we currently don’t have really good medicines.'
Professor William Gerwick: 'Even nuisance pests, as it turns out, are not just pests'
Assistant professor Jennifer Smith, added: 'These organisms have been on the planet for millions of years and so it is not surprising that they have evolved numerous strategies for competing with neighboring species, including chemical warfare.
'Several species of cyanobacteria and algae are known to produce novel compounds, many that have promising use in drug development for human and other uses.'
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation within a joint. Around 10 million people have arthritis in the UK – 8.5million of whom have osteoarthritis. This form generally affects those aged over 50 and is caused by the cartilage between bones gradually wasting away – causing painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. However, the condition can affect people of any age.
There is currently no cure for arthritis though painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed to help treat the symptoms.
Professor Gerwick said: 'I think this finding is a nice illustration of how we need to look more deeply in our environment because even nuisance pests, as it turns out, are not just pests.
'It’s a long road to go from this early-stage discovery to application in the clinic but it’s the only road if we want new and more efficacious medicines.'
The study was published in the latest issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology.