Using algae to bring relief for IBD patients
In our oceans, rivers and lakes lies a nearly untapped potential to improve our health.
Cyanobacteria, micro- and macroalgae produce an infinite number of molecules, many of which have properties beneficial to health. They can relieve pain, alleviate inflammation, or boost our microbiome. However, most algae remain unstudied, with their health potential unexploited.
That is why we launched Algae4IBD, an EU-funded research initiative. Over four years, we will study under- and unexplored algae and look for compounds with pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, prebiotic, or antibiotic effects.
To develop functional food and medication against pain, inflammation and IBD
Pain, inflammation, and an imbalanced gut-microbiome are all characteristics of IBD. The combined power of algae can help improve the well-being of IBD patients.
IBD is a complex disease whose incidence is steadily increasing. Patients require tailored therapies which are often expensive. Yet, not everyone responds to the available treatments, leaving some with only one option: surgical removal of parts of their bowel. Therefore, a great need for new medication exists.
Our focus is on providing orally available and cost-effective solutions for IBD patients – kids and adults – using algal compounds.
Painkillers block messenger molecules that tell the brain where we feel pain. If our brain doesn’t notice, neither do we.
Anti-inflammatory drugs block the development of inflammation, reduce tissue swelling and the associated pain experienced during inflammation.
Antibiotics or prebiotics act against bad microorganisms or promote the good ones. When the community of gut microbes is in shape, so is health.
Holistic and forward-thinking to provide patients with solutions quickly.
We strive to deliver our solutions to patients quickly. That’s why we cover the entire development process from algae cultivation to product formulation. With our novel development process, we solve problems before they arise; for even faster product development.
For the most efficient outcome, we will pursue two different routes:
How it works
From nature to stores and pharmacies in less than 4 years
We grow our algae in so-called photo-bioreactors. In these machines, we control their growth by adjusting light, CO2 concentration, and temperature – important conditions for algae to thrive. By creating the ideal artificial environment, we produce maximum amounts of our algae, while going easy on nature.
The desired compounds are inside the algae cells. How do we get them? We have to break the algae cells, which can be done with ultrasound, for instance. These sound-waves of 20 kHz and higher cause the algae cells to vibrate so heavily that they break, releasing all the different inner compounds.
Once we have released the compounds from inside the algae cells, we separate them. After all, each compound can have different effects, so we want to test them individually. To do this, we use solvents. These are liquids that will pull the desired compounds out of the mix of released molecules.
To study the effects of the separated compounds we add them, for instance, to inflamed human lab cells and single out those that relieve the inflammation. As IBD is linked to gut bacteria, we test the compounds also on both good and bad bacteria to find those that act as prebiotics or antibiotics.
We test the most promising compounds on cells from IBD patients. Tissue obtained during a colonoscopy is grown in the lab and the compounds added to it. This way, we can determine if the compounds revert patients’ IBD symptoms. It will also help us understand the patient-specific responses to the different compounds. This is important to make the treatment of IBD more effective.
To produce the compounds, we need to determine their 3D-structure. How many carbon or oxygen atoms are present? How are they connected? One of the techniques we use to do so is nuclear magnetic resonance. We place the compound between magnets. With the magnets we set the compound’s atoms in vibration. We record and analyse the vibrations and get a clear picture of how our compound looks like.
Often algae can’t produce the compounds in the quantity required for product development. In these cases, we give our algae a break and make the compounds ourselves. Since we now know their 3D-structure, we know which building blocks we need for this. In a sequence of chemical reactions, we let the building blocks interact with each other and build our compounds step by step.