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News UK & Ireland

Alginates found in seaweed can combat multidrug-resistant infections, such as those associated with peri-implantitis. (Photograph: divedog/Shutterstock)
0 Comments Jun 23, 2017 | News UK & Ireland

Award-winning seaweed drug helps fight disease

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CARDIFF, UK: Together with Norwegian biopharmaceutical company AlgiPharma, researchers at Cardiff University have been working on new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant diseases and infections. In the study, the team at the School of Dentistry has shown how alginates—found in seaweed—can disrupt the formation of microbial biofilms.

Biofilms form when a community of bacteria assemble in some form of watery environment, begin to excrete a glue-like substance and adhere to a surface. Biofilms have been found to be involved in a wide variety of microbial infections in the human body. An example is dental plaque, which can lead to caries and periodontal disease if undisrupted.

In an interview with Dental Tribune International, study leader Prof. David Thomas explained that specialised alginates work in two ways: “Firstly, they directly interact with the ‘sticky’ biofilm matrix, which encases the bacteria, and modify the biofilm’s structure by binding to calcium. These effects make the biofilm less robust and more easily disrupted. Secondly, they work directly on the bacteria themselves, changing their expression of quorum-sensing molecules (which control biofilm development) and making them more sensitive to the effects of conventional antibiotic therapy.”

The researchers have used the information about how alginates work to develop an inhalation therapy being tested on cystic fibrosis patients. If successful, the treatment could be applied to help clear mucus obstructions in the lungs and potentially slow the progression of the disease. In addition, it could be used in other, more common respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The studies are also paving the way towards improved treatment of chronic skin wounds and combat of organisms that cause periodontal disease, for example.

Thomas explained that “the alginates may be useful in dentistry as an adjunct in the management of chronic biofilm infections”, such as “peri-implantitis, where the non-toxic agent may be applied directly to aid disruption of biofilms and stop biofilms reforming on treated surfaces”.

The project was launched with funding from AlgiPharma in 2007 for exploratory microbiology studies, but developed into a nine-year collaboration between the university’s Advanced Therapies Group (ATG), AlgiPharma, and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. The ATG’s collaborative network helped attract researchers with expertise in specialist areas, paving the way for human clinical studies across the EU and Scandinavia.

Dr Philip Rye, Research and Development Director at AlgiPharma, said: “The collaboration has enabled us to make significant advances in the development of a new drug, which is now in human clinical studies, and has recently been included in the US Cystic Fibrosis Foundation drug development pipeline.”

The project is a winning finalist in Cardiff University’s 2017 Innovation and Impact Awards.

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