Seaweed could yield useful medicines

May 24, 2012 at 4:27 PM
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SAN DIEGO, May 24 (UPI) -- Seaweed considered a threat to the healthy growth of coral reefs in Hawaii produces substances that could one day treat human diseases, researchers say.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, said the seaweed, a tiny organism known as a "cyanobacterium," produces chemical compounds that may lead to anti-inflammatory agents and could combat bacterial infections, the university reported Thursday.

The cyanobacterium is believed to be native to Hawaii and is usually inconspicuous, researchers said.

When a bloom of the seaweed was found during routine surveys of reefs by the University of Hawaii, samples were sent to Scripps in California where they were studied and the compounds identified.

"In different arenas these compounds could be helpful, such as treating chronic inflammatory conditions for which we currently don't have really good medicines," Scripps researcher William Gerwick, a professor of oceanography and pharmaceutical sciences, 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," Gerwick said.

"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."

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