Algae extract may act to slow down COVID progression, say researchers

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Algae extract may act to slow down COVID progression

Related tags: COVID-19, spirulina, Algae

Researchers are drawing attention to the possible role of algae in delaying the onset of COVID-19 by ‘calming’ the ‘cytokine storm (CS),’ an immune overreaction thought to be behind the condition’s more serious symptoms.

Writing in the journal Marine Biotechnology, ​a team identifies a Spirulina extract as capable of decreasing the secretion levels of a protein that sets in motion the cytokine storms seen in patients with COVID-19.

Although the researchers point out the work is at an early stage with results seen in in vitro ​test conditions, the team point to Spirulina’s European regulatory acceptance as a dietary supplement as reasons for optimism.

“When the algae extract was included in optimum quantities, there was a 70% reduction in the release of TNF-α proteins, which is very encouraging,”explains​ lead study author Dr Asaf Tzachor.

“This indicates that the algae extract may be used to prevent cytokine storms if given to patients soon after diagnosis,” ​he adds.

Spirulina joins virus fight

Whilst much nutritional attention has focused on vitamins as a potential remedy against the virus, the properties of the blue-green algae Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis​) extract suggests a potency that has been overlooked.

The cytokine storm has been a target area for many research teams including one in Japan​ that recently reported on vitamin B6’s effect in quietening the cytokine storm and unblocking blood clots associated with the virus.

Spirulina’s health benefits are well documented with the algae a rich source of C-phycocyanin (C-PC), a pigment-binding protein, which enhances antioxidation, anti-inflammation, and anti-tumour activities.

Under specific conditions, irradiation using light-emitting diodes (LED) to control photosynthesis, algal bioactivity such as anti-inflammatory properties may be enhanced.

In a collaboration between Israeli and Icelandic researchers, the team began subjecting lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-activated macrophages and monocytes with aqueous extracts of Spirulina, cultivated in either natural or controlled light conditions.

At a concentration of 0.1 micrograms per millilitre (µg/mL), the team found this dilution of the extract, produced by the Icelandic company, Vaxa, decreased macrophage and monocyte-induced TNF-α secretion levels by over 70% and 40%, respectively.

“A possible explanation for the reaction pattern observed in this study for TNF-α and IL-6 inhibition is that different bioactive molecules of LED Spirulina extract at different absolute quantities affect macrophages and monocyte cells differently,”​ the researchers wrote.

“Some bioactive molecules suppressed TNF-α at low dosages, while others inhibited IL-6 release only at higher dosages.”

European funding

Along with Vaxa, other organisations involved in this research include the Migal Galilee institute and another Icelandic firm Matis, the MIGAL Research Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, where Dr Tzachor is a biotechnology researcher.

Such is the interest in the algae’s efficacy against the virus, Vaxa and Matis are involved in an EU-funded initiative formed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship across Europe.

As part of The European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Crisis Response Initiative, CovidX is a project investigating whether the Spirulina-extract can strengthen the immune system and help reduce infection risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

It is hoped that a Spirulina-based food supplement can act as a natural shield to high-risk population groups such as the elderly and people with severe underlying medical conditions, as well as high-exposure groups e.g. medical personnel. The supplement will not be a replacement for SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations.

Source: Marine Biotechnology

Published online: doi.org/10.1007/s10126-021-10020-z

“Photosynthetically Controlled Spirulina, but Not Solar Spirulina, Inhibits TNF-α Secretion: Potential Implications for COVID-19-Related Cytokine Storm Therapy.”

Authors: Asaf Tzachor et al.

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