by Ralph Turchiano, CEO, Alchepharma
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found that ulvan, an extract from the edible marine algae ulva (AKA Sea Lettuce) prevents infection of the Corona virus. The group was led by Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences. “In our laboratory study, we found a cheap and easy-to-produce natural material that prevents cells from being infected with the Corona virus,” he said. “Our findings at this stage arouse cautious optimism.”
The research team consisted of Shai Sheffer, Arthur Rubin and Alexander Chemodanov from Dr. Golberg’s laboratory, Prof. Michael Gozin from the School of Chemistry and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Tel Aviv University. They collaborated with researchers from the Hebrew University, the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, and the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, USA. The article was published in the PeerJ journal.
“This is a cheap natural material for production, which may help solve a serious problem — the spread of the Corona virus in large populations, especially in developing countries, which do not have access to the vaccine,” said Prof Golberg. “The lack of access to vaccines takes the lives of many victims and even accelerates the creation of new variants. The study is still in its early stages, but we hope that the discovery will be used in the future to develop an accessible and effective drug, preventing infection with the virus.”
According to Prof. Golberg, prior research has shown that ulvan is effective against viruses in agriculture and also against some of the human viruses, so when the Corona virus arrived, he began to test its activity against that one.
The laboratory researchers grew Ulva, extracted the substance ulvan from it and sent it to the Southern Research Institute which deals with infectious diseases. The US researchers built a cellular model to test the activity of the substance produced in Prof. Golberg’s laboratory. The cells were exposed to both the Corona virus and also to ulvan. It was found that, in the presence of ulvan, the Corona virus did not infect the cells.
“The findings are very encouraging,” say the researchers, “but they are still only ‘oil slicks’, and a lot of work is still ahead of us. The substance was produced in raw production, so it is actually a mixture of many natural substances, and we must find out which one is the substance that prevents cell infection. Thereafter we will have to examine how, if at all, it works in humans.”
In the most optimistic scenario, ulvan could serve as a solution to an urgent and painful problem: giving Corona virus protection to billions of people who do not have access to vaccines.
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