UST researchers bare potential anti-cancer properties in local seaweed

Thursday, April 25, 2019 12:00 AM    Views : 278by:The Manila Times

A University of Santo Tomas (UST) research group, headed by National Research Council of the Philippines-Pharmaceutical Science Project member and UST Laboratory Equipment and Supplies Office Administrator Prof. Ross Vasquez, PhD, found that polysaccharides extracted from the Codium species are “effective against cancer cells and destructive enzymes associated with cancer metastasis.”

Prof. Ross Vasquez, PhD, leader of the University of Santo Tomas research team on pukpuklo, presents the study on the potential anticancer properties of the seaweed. PHOTO BY VAL ZABALA/DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Codium species, specifically the seasonally available seaweed known as pukpuklo, can be found in selected waters in Ilocos Norte, Cagayan Province, Iloilo and Aklan. It is often harvested for food. In Ilocos, it is made into a seaweed salad dish with the same name.

In a press statement by the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) in February, the study “evaluated the inhibitory potential of the polysaccharides fractions isolated from Codium species” and found that the polysaccharides “fight destructive enzymes that aid metastasis or spread of cancer to different parts of the body.” Polysaccharides are carbohydrates whose molecules consist of a number of sugar molecules bonded together, such as starch, glycogen or cellulose.

Though there had been much research on other similar Codium species, this seemed to be the pioneering study for pukpuklo, said Vasquez during a publicly-available online video interview with noontime news proram “Agila Balita.” He explained that two years had been devoted to conducting the research. The first year was for characterization and extraction of the polysaccharides, while the second year was dedicated to biological activities such as testing its properties on cancer cells, rats, and normal cells within the lab.

In the same interview, Vasquez said that while obtaining the pukpuklo, he learned from the local fishers that this seaweed could not be grown elsewhere because it needs very specific conditions under which it can grow. He found that the pukpuklo needs certain variables such as temperature, pH level, oxygen concentration and other features of the marine waters, to be jointly conducive for growth.

While the pukpuklo can be eaten raw, the anti-cancer properties of pukpuklo do not extend to raw consumption, said Vasquez. The polysaccharides make up a very small percentage of the “thallus,” or body, of the plant and has to be extracted first by using a treatment. A challenge the researchers face is increasing the yield of extracts from the seaweed. In 1 kilogram of pukpuklo, only around 4 to 8 grams of the sulfated polysaccharides, which can inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells, can be xtracted.

However, before extracts from the pukpuklo are ready forcommercialization, Vasquez says that there remains a need follow-up research on the specific structure and mechanism of action of the anti-cancer properties of the polysaccharides.

The study, titled “Medical potential of polysaccharide fractions from Codium species as cytotoxic and matrix metalloproteinase=1 (MMP-1) inhibitory agent,” was first publicly presented by Vasquez at the DoST-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) Second Basic Research Symposium held in October 2018 at the Hotel Jen, Pasay City.

Also part of the research group were UST Faculty of Pharmacy faculty member Prof. Jovencio Apostol, PhD, and Regina Belen Callanta, a biological sciences student at the UST Graduate School. NRCP provided a grant of P1.3 million for the completion of the research project.


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