More to Marine Algae Than Meets the Eye
Anyone visiting the ocean knows about seaweed. Or do we? For instance, there are over 9,000 species of seaweed in the world's oceans. Even its name is deceiving, since seaweed is actually one of many forms of marine algae that play a vital role in the global food chain, beginning with water-based organisms right up to humans.
Valued for their high nutrient and vitamin content, sea algae play an essential role in the daily diets in many countries. They are also used as important food ingredients in everything from sushi, energy drinks, and dairy products to bread, soups, macaroni and cheese, and frozen meals.
Another area where seaweed has a long history is as a topical and internal medication. The Romans used it to treat wounds and burns. In 18th century Europe, physicians used seaweed to help treat stomach ulcers. Traditional Chinese and Egyptian medicine has relied on properties of brown seaweed to treat a variety of ailments, including cancer, since 300 B.C.
Back to the Future
The ancients were onto something. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (UOHSC) in Oklahoma City, OK, recently verified for the first time that certain polyphenols found in brown sea algae hold great promise in halting the proliferation of one of the most lethal forms of therapy-resistant malignancy: endocrine pancreatic cancer.
Endocrine pancreatic cancer, also known as adenocarcinoma or simply PC, begins in the pancreas, which is located behind the stomach. It secretes enzymes that aid in digestion and carry hormones to regulate the metabolism of sugars. When cells in the pancreas begin to form an abnormal mass the cancer exhibits few noticeable symptoms and early detection is rare. That makes PC one of the deadliest cancers in existence. Worldwide, it claims an estimated 330,000 lives a year. Despite surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, the one-year survival rate for patients with PC is about 20%.
Bettering the Odds Through Science
A major reason for the poor prognosis in PC patients is autophagy, the natural process of degradation and recycling of your body's cells to keep you healthy. In cancer patients, however, autophagy plays an opposite role by actually promoting cancer's development.
For PC patients receiving radiotherapy and some chemotherapy agents, treatments essentially activate the autophagy process. That leads to the creation of therapy-resistant cancer cells remaining in the body to cause relapse and the rapid spread of the disease to distant organs.
In an effort to halt the activated autophagy process, UOHSC scientists focused their research on three antioxidant-rich brown seaweed polyphenol fractions (SA-EA, PT-EA, and HT-EA). Initially through cell cultures and then in mice, researchers created PC tumor models and then subjected both the cells and the mice to a typical course of radiotherapy treatments. Half of the subjects additionally received seaweed polyphenols during the course of treatment.
Seeing is Believing
Staining PC cells with fluorescently labelled antibodies, UOHSC researchers used a PerkinElmer Operetta® High- Content Imaging System and the intuitive Columbus™ Image Data Storage and Analysis System to see and analyze for the first time the increased transcriptional activation of proteins in PC cells that survive cancer therapy.
In the course of their experiments, the research team also relied on the Operetta and Columbus systems to generate critically important images showing significant inhibition of cell activity in those mice receiving the seaweed polyphenol preparation. Those visualizations prompted the research team to announce that seaweed polyphenols not only prevent but also target radio-activated autophagy signaling and associated radio-resistant cell proliferation.
"Seaweed polyphenols completely suppressed the transcription of all investigated autophagy regulators in both cell-lines," lead researcher Sheeja Aravindan says. "Immunohistochemical analysis of tissue microarrays revealed the complete regulation of ATG3, ATG5, ATG12, LC3A, LC3B, BECN1, and SURVIVIN in residual PC following SA-EA, PT-EA, and HT-EA treatment. These data demonstrate the autophagy blue print in therapy-resistant PC cells for the first time. Moreover, the data strongly suggest that the selected polyphenols could serve as effective adjuvants for current PC treatment modalities and may inhibit tumor relapse by comprehensively targeting therapy-orchestrated autophagy in residual cells."
The PerkinElmer Operetta® High- Content Imaging System is for research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.
- Lee Ann Anderson, et.al. "Seaweed", Drugs.com.
- Beth Nalker and Doug Casey, "There Are Algae in Your House!", Ocean Planet, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition, 1995.
- Lei Liua, et al. "Towards A Better Understanding Of Medicinal Uses Of The Brown Seaweed Sargassum In Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Phytochemical Andpharmacological Review", Journal of Ethnopharmacology, June 2012.
- Sheeja Aravindan, et al. "Novel Adjuvants From Seaweed Impede Autophagy Signaling In Therapy-Resistant Residual Pancreatic Cancer", Journal of Biomedical Science, April 17, 2015.
- Agi Hirshberg, "Prognosis Of Pancreatic Cancer", Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, 2010. See also, Bernard W. Stewart and Christopher P. Wild., "World Cancer Report 2014", World Health Organization, 2014, Chapters 5 and 7
- Shenghong Yang, et al. "Pancreatic Cancers Require Autophagy For Tumor Growth", Genes and Development, March 15, 2011.
- Sheeja Aravindan, et. al., op. cit.