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The starfish could be key to new medical treatments

9th December 2010

Scientists believe that starfish lurking beneath the seas of Scotland may help with a medical breakthrough.

They believe that the shiny substance covering the body of the spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis) may help in finding a new treatment for inflammatory conditions such as asthma, hay fever and arthritis.

The substance acts as an anti-fouling surface that prevents anything from sticking to it and it is this property that has interested scientists, particularly those seeking breakthroughs in the field of inflammation.

Inflammatory conditions can be effectively treated but drugs such as steroids often have side effects.

But researchers from King's College London (KCL) think starfish – and their non-stick coating – could offer a better solution.

Inflammation occurs when the when the immune system begins to get out of control as white blood cells begin to build up and stick to the blood vessel wall, and this can cause tissue damage.

The idea is that a treatment based on starfish slime could effectively coat our blood vessels in the same way the goo covers the marine creature, and prevent this problem.

Clive Page, professor of pharmacology at KCL, said: “Normally when you are trying to find a new drug to go after a particular target in human beings, you have to screen hundreds of molecules to find something that will give you a lead.

“The starfish is effectively providing us with something that is giving is different leads: it has had billions of years in evolution to come up with molecules that do specific things.”

 

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