The Potential of Algae to Treat Chronic Inflammation

Chronic Inflammation

Dr. Dorit Avni, coordinator of Algae4IBD, MIGAL Galilee Research Institute

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a set of diseases which cause chronic inflammation in the bowel, the most common being Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In all forms of this illness, its resulting bowel injury impairs organ functions and leads to severe pain, fatigue, depression and in some cases colon cancer. These symptoms impair the lives of more than 6.8 million people worldwide and, according to estimates, this illness is going to affect 8 million people by 2025.

Currently no cure exists, so available therapies focus on mitigating the inflammation and its symptoms. Some of the available treatments also cause side effects. Steroid-based medications lead to sleeping problems and increased appetite. Not every patient responds to treatment either, making removal of the affected organ parts their only option for a life with controlled IBD.

So, what if the cure for a chronic disease like IBD lies in our ocean, rivers, or lakes? The EU-funded Algae4IBD project will help to answer this question.

Algae4IBD project to research cures and treatments

Some algal compounds can be beneficial for our health. The anti-inflammatory compounds of Chlorella, among other things, make these algae a preferred source for food supplements. Consuming Chlorella could help reduce chronic inflammation.

Scientists expect more algae species to have similar health effects. Dr. Dorit Avni, Algae4IBD coordinator, an expert in immune modulation at the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute in Israel, is one of these scientists. “I think we just started to scratch the huge world of algae,” she says. “We know about some, but algae are a huge untapped reservoir with an infinite opportunity to find novel compounds. We found interesting anti-inflammatory compounds from algae that could have higher therapeutic activity than current standard (IBD) treatments.”

The Algae4IBD consortium is made up of academic and research institutes, hospitals, as well as companies with expertise in algae cultivation and extraction, food development and pharmaceuticals. It has 21 partners spread over 11 countries, with MIGAL from Israel as the coordinator. The researchers, companies and hospitals involved in the different stages of the project will use the biodiversity of algae, both micro and macro, as a wide source for bioactive compounds using state-of-the-art cultivation and extraction technologies for obtaining bio-active molecules.

Aside from developing new IBD medicines, the researchers from the Algae4IBD project are developing “smart food based on the compounds coming from algae. For example, bread that will be enriched with these relieving compounds,” said Dr. Avni. “With joint forces for four years, we definitely can provide the research base that will bring us either novel treatment through pharma or functional food.”

This project has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON 2020 Research programme under the Grant Agreement no. 101000501

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