Starfish may soon provide an unlikely treatment for inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis, according to marine scientists.
Lurking in the seas of Scotland is an unlikely candidate for a medical breakthrough.
But scientists believe the starfish could hold the key to finding a new treatment for inflammatory conditions such as asthma, hay fever and arthritis.
The species they are interested in is the spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis), and in particular the slimy goo that covers its body.
The team says that chemicals in this coating could inspire new medicines.
While most man-made structures that are placed in the water rapidly get caked with a mixture of marine life, starfish manage to keep their surface clear.
Dr Charlie Bavington, from GlycoMar, a marine biotechnology company based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban, explained: “Starfish live in the sea, and are bathed in a solution of bacteria, larvae, viruses and all sorts of things that are looking for somewhere to live.
“But starfish are better than Teflon: they have a very efficient anti-fouling surface that prevents things from sticking.”
And it is this non-stick property that has grabbed medical scientists’ attention, particularly in the field of inflammation.
The researchers believe this non-stick property could provide a vital new weapon against inflammatory illness.
These conditions are caused when the body’s natural response to infections accelerates out of control.
Infection-fighting white blood cells begin to build up in the blood vessels and stick to the sides, which can cause tissue damage.
Lead researcher Dr Charlie Bavington said the starfish slime could be used to coat the blood vessels which would let the white blood cells to flow easily.
‘It is a very similar situation to something sticking to a starfish in the sea,’ he told the BBC.
‘These cells have to stick from a flowing medium to a blood vessel wall, so we thought we could learn something from how starfish prevent this so we could find a way to prevent this in humans.’
This could reduce the amount of drugs patients would need to take, which often have unwanted side effects.
Professor Clive Page from King’s College Library, said: ‘The starfish have effectively done a lot of the hard work for us.
‘It has had billions of years in evolution to come up with molecules that do specific things.
‘We are learning all the time from nature about how to find new medicines.’