UST team researching seaweed cancer treatment

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beach sand seaweed

RESEARCHERS have claimed that a Philippine seaweed has some of the properties of the Japanese fucoidan, used to treat cancer and inflammation, and could serve as a substitute for the more expensive Japanese variant.

Ross D. Vasquez, administrator of the University of Santo Tomas Laboratory Equipment and Supplies Office (LESO) and a Professor, was the lead researcher for the study alongside Ariane Marie G. Bayro and Mary Jho-Anne T. Corpuz. The group studied a form of seaweed used to prepare the Ilocano dish pukpuklo.

“My group is doing research on marine polysaccharides, like carageenans and fucoidan, and we are looking for a local counterpart of the very expensive fucoidan, which is well-known for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties,” Mr. Vasquez said.

Mr. Vasquez said at this stage of the study, the seaweed used in pukpuklo was found to be toxic to cancer cells.

“We saw that they are cytotoxic to cancer cells,” Mr. Vasquez told BusinessWorld on Friday at UST. He said the seaweed preparation was tested on MCF-7 — breast cancer cells.

The project ran between 2016 and 2017, funded by the National Research Center of the Philippines (NRCP).

Mr. Vasquez said that his group extended it until 2018.

Mr. Vasquez said pending full validation of the findings he has been receiving proposals from businessmen to market the seaweed used in pukpuklo as an anti-cancer product.

Full validation of the finding will require animal and human testing, Mr. Vasquez said.

“We have done it on rats, but we are looking at two things: either anti-cancer or pharmaceutical importance as cosmetic ingredients for skin ageing, improvement of collagen secretion, or if it could inhibit MMP1 production,” Mr. Vasquez said.

“MMP1 is responsible for skin ageing. We saw that pukpuklo has the potential for that…,” Mr. Vasquez added.

Seaweed used in pukpuklo can be found in Cagayan Province, and is considered a regional delicacy, eaten either fresh in a vegetable salad.

According to Mr. Vasquez, pukpuklo-type seaweed is a source of sulfated polysaccharide similar to that contained in fucoidan.

Sulfated polysaccharides from green seaweed are known to have antitumor, anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulating properties.

Mr. Vasquez clarified that the anticancer and anti-ageing benefits of pukpuklo can only be accessed once processed, and not when eaten as food.

“When taken as food, as nutritional functional food, you only get the proteins, vitamins, minerals. You have to process it. We are not sure of the [anticancer and anti-ageing properties] when eaten,” Mr. Vasquez said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio