Starfish could help asthma and arthritis sufferers


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A species of starfish could hold the key to finding a new treatment for inflammatory conditions such as asthma, hay fever and arthritis.

The Spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) found off the west coast of Scotland has a slimy coating which acts as a kind of anti-foulant. It is this slime which is thought may inspire new anti-inflammatory medicines.

Dr Charlie Bavington, from GlycoMar, a marine biotechnology company based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban, is quoted: "Starfish live in the sea, and are bathed in a solution of bacteria, larvae, viruses and all sorts of things that are looking for somewhere to live.

"But starfish are better than Teflon: they have a very efficient anti-fouling surface that prevents things from sticking."

Essentially, new medicines would utilise the starfish slimes ability to coat blood vessels to prevent the body’s inflammatory response which can lead to tissue damage as white blood cells stick to the blood vessel wall.

Dr Bavington said: "It is a very similar situation to something sticking to a starfish in the sea.

"These cells have to stick from a flowing medium to a blood vessel wall, so we thought we could learn something from how starfish prevent this so we could find a way to prevent this in humans."

While many inflammatory conditions can be effectively treated, for example with steroids, these drugs can often cause unwanted side effects.

Scientists at King's College London (KCL) however are using compounds found in the starfish slime to produce their own versions of them in the lab.

Professor Clive Page professor of pharmacology at KCL said: "The starfish have effectively done a lot of the hard work for us. Conceptually we know this is the right approach.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow afternoon, but we are learning all the time from nature about how to find new medicines."