The sea: a source of health benefits. Already present in our medicine cabinets, marine resources also promise new revolutionary drugs.
Nothing like a stay on the coast to recover. Breathe in the sea air, take an invigorating bath of saltwater … But beyond the well-being it brings us, the sea holds many assets for our health. “This is an extraordinary biodiversity reserve that remains largely unknown,” says biologist Franck Zal. Several thousand molecules produced by marine species are already interesting research.
Another wealth is the genetic heritage of these organisms. The Tara Oceans expedition (2009-2013) analyzed nearly 120 million marine plankton genes, half of which are unknown, and from which molecules of therapeutic interest could be developed. “A huge deposit, which could lead to the discovery of new drugs,” said oceanologist Michel Hignette.
Iodine, an essential trace element
Present in seawater, iodine is a trace element essential to our body. It is involved in the synthesis of thyroid hormones, essential for brain development of the fetus and newborn, and maintenance of metabolism in adults (deficiency can lead to fatigue, weight gain …). The most iodized foods come from the sea: fish, seafood, seaweed, and salt enriched with iodine (1,860 micrograms per 100 grams, a thousand times more than in non-iodized salt).
Algae in our dressings
Algae have already invested our first aid kits! More precisely alginates, these sugars extracted mainly from two species, Laminaria digitata, and Hyperborea. Dressings composed of alginate fibers gel on contact with the wound, protecting it from microbes and maintaining a moist environment that promotes healing. They are also found in medicines to fight against gastroesophageal reflux. Other applications (antiviral, healing) are studied by the French company Algaia.
The marine worm, universal blood donor
The arenicola worm (Arenicola marina), which forms curls of sand on the beaches, holds rare powers: at low tide, it stops breathing for six hours. “Its hemoglobin can fix forty times more oxygen than ours,” says biologist Franck Zal, founder of Hemarina. This hemoglobin is compatible with all blood groups. Decisive advantages for organ transplantation. According to Franck Zal, adding lactic hemoglobin to graft preservation solutions would extend its life span from twelve hours to one week for the kidney, for example. Delays in graft function recovery in transplant patients are also divided by three.
The venom of marine cones, a powerful painkiller
At first sight harmless, sea cones, sea snails, produce deadly venoms for humans … from which an analgesic protein has been extracted! In France, since 2005, a painkiller derived from the venom of Conus magus is used in the hospital: perfused in the spinal cord, the Prialt relieve chronic pain as a last resort. Australian researchers hope to develop other analgesics from the cone, deliverable orally and more effective than morphine. As for the Venomics program of the Atomic Energy Commission, he discovered in the venoms of small animals (including 56% of marine cones), 280 substances potentially active against various diseases (obesity, allergies …). This toxin bank is of interest to pharmaceutical companies such as Sanofi.
Starfish against cystic fibrosis
By studying the eggs of the glacial starfish (Marthasterias glacialis), researchers have developed a molecule, roscovitine. “We discovered by chance that it boosts the natural abilities of defective immune cells in cystic fibrosis,” says biologist Laurent Meijer, co-founder of the French company ManRos Therapeutics, who has just tested it in a clinical study. “Roscovitine is a hope for patients fighting against antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Pierre Foucaud, president of the Vanquishing Cystic Fibrosis Association.
Bacteria to repair our tissues
In the abyss of the Pacific Ocean, scientists at Ifremer have discovered the bacterium Alteromonas infernus, a hope for regenerative medicine. “It makes sugars similar to those found in the extracellular matrix, a liquid that bathes our cells,” says Sylvia Colliec-Jouault, a biochemist at Ifremer. These matrix dysfunctions with certain diseases such as osteoarthritis (destruction of cartilage). A repair strategy consists of taking from the patient stem cells (able to differentiate into various cell types), culturing them, differentiating them into cartilage cells, and then injecting them into the damaged areas using a hydrogel. Added in the culture medium and the hydrogel, these bacterial sugars stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of the stem cells, then the reformation of the cartilage.
The benefits of seawater
Enjoy the benefits of seawater is no longer limited to the thalassotherapy. Other activities are offered such as aquafitness at sea or along the coast, a hike in the marine environment. No studies prove their benefits, but doctors report, however, for thalassotherapy, improvements in pain related to poor posture or osteoarthritis, but also on anxiety, fatigue, venous circulation problems.