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Seaweed identified as potential flu remedy

Kyodo

Researchers at Saga University say they have isolated a substance from seaweed that could fight the flu virus with a smaller dosage than existing medication and with fewer side effects.

The study, led by Yuto Kamei, a Saga University assistant professor who specializes in marine biotechnology, could pave the way for developing new influenza drugs that are more potent and less likely to cause side effects.

The Kamei team said it has isolated the flu-fighting substance from sargassum piluliferum, a type of inedible marine algae found along nearly all the coasts of Honshu.

Through a series of in vitro experiments with type-A influenza virus, the team found that the substance, known as MC26, is capable of eliminating about 50 percent of flu viruses with about a third of the dose required in conventional flu medicine amantadine hydrochloride.

The Kamei team also found that MC26 had about 80 percent less cytotoxicity, which is linked to side effects, than the existing flu drug.

Kamei believes MC26 works in a way that prevents flu viruses from creating their “parts” when they enter into cells and multiply using cell functions.

The Kamei team said MC26 is effective on cells already invaded by flu viruses — spawning hope that effective treatment can be developed for people who are not treated for some time after catching the flu.

Looking to the future, Kamei said his team plans to carry out animal tests to check whether MC26 is effective against different types of influenza, and to study how quickly the recipients will develop a drug tolerance.

“We hope to identify the elements of MC26 so that we can eventually synthesize the substance,” Kamei said.

Sargassum piluliferum, known as “mametawara” in Japanese, belongs to the sargassum fulvellum group of seaweeds. The seaweed has a light yellow-brown hue and grows to 1 to 2 meters in length, bearing air vesicles in its branches.