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NTU Scientists Develop New Asthma Drug from Algae

Through three years of research collaboration, a research team led by Prof. Bor-luen Chiang of the Institute of Clinical Medicine and Prof. Hong-nong Chou of the Institute of Fisheries Science has discovered that purified phycocyanin significantly reduces inflammatory cells and obstruction in the respiratory tract. Their findings were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the leading international journal of respiratory studies. The two professors expect to begin clinical trials after obtaining patents.

Prof. Chiang says that while the steroids used today for the treatment of allergic asthma are effective in inhibiting inflammation, they also promote type II allergies (caused by T helper cells) and are therefore detrimental in long-term treatment. A grant provided through the National Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Program allowed the team to screen thousands of compounds and purified materials. The team found that phycocyanin, a protein in cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), is especially effective.

This finding is significant because rather than developing pharmaceuticals and health foods from land-based resources, such as mushrooms and plant extracts, as has been done in Taiwan in the past, it relies on a marine resource. Moreover, this is the first research to directly demonstrate that phycocyanin boosts immune functions and is effective in particular in treating allergy and immunity diseases. These characteristics make phycocyanin suitable for development into a drug for the treatment of allergic asthma.

As an island, Taiwan has abundant marine resources. The exploitation of phycocyanin to manufacture biotech health and pharmaceutical products could provide a new direction for the development of Taiwan’s biotechnology sector.

Chinese version