Marine biologists in New Zealand have identified a compound in an extract from the native green-lipped mussel that appears to relieve symptoms of arthritis. The biologists, mainly from the School of Medicine at the University Auckland, hope to develop the compound into a drug for treating the disease.
Capsules containing crude extracts from the green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) have been sold as food supplements under the brand name Seatone for 20 years in 65 countries. The active component turns out to be a glycoprotein which blocks the action of neutrophils, white blood cells that trigger the immune system into action at sites of infection or tissue injury.
Neutrophils anchor themselves to the walls of blood vessels and act as ‘gatekeepers’, allowing chemicals of the immune system to enter and combat infection. Inflammation occurs when neutrophils allow the substances to attack healthy tissue.
‘The glycoprotein occupies the sites on blood vessel walls where neutrophils normally dock,’ says John Croft, who manages a marine farm and hatchery where 800 tonnes of the mussels are grown and harvested each year. If the neutrophils cannot dock, they cannot trigger inflammation.