Seaweed extracts developed in Tasmania could be the key to boosting the effects of chemotherapy drugs.
International research found the effectiveness of the common chemotherapy drug tamoxifen was increased when combined with two types of seaweed extracts, which are known as fucoidans.
In addition one the the types of seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida which also known as Wakame, grows wild in Tasmanian waters.
The studies were undertaken at the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
The researchers used the extracts, developed and manufactured by biotechnology company Marinova, on human cancer mouse models with cervical, breast and ovarian cancer.
Ingesting the extracts decreased the growth of a human ovarian cancer tumour line by up to 33 per cent and a human cervical cancer tumour line by up to 70 per cent.
The researchers also found that fucoidans considerably improved the efficacy of the chemotherapy drug tamoxifen towards breast cancer and decreased breast cancer tumour growth by up to an additional 26 per cent.
Director of the Women’s Health Integrative Medicine Research Program at UTHealth, Associate Professor Dr Judith A Smith, led the research project.
“This was the first research program to comprehensively assess the metabolism of fucoidan compounds for possible chemotherapy drug interactions,” she said.
“A pharmacokinetic study is now underway at UTHealth to further assess safety and observe quality of life parameters in human cancer patients.”
Another part of the study found that both seaweed extracts enhanced the immune function of cancer-affected mice.
A 500 per cent increase in immunoglobulin G levels, the main type of antibody found in humans, was detected after one week of ingesting the extracts.
IgG levels are often suppressed in cancer patients making them vulnerable to a wide range of infections.
The chief scientist at Marinova, based in Cambridge near Hobart, said the results showed the potential for the seaweed extracts to help restore functional immunity in cancer patients.
“To have identified a safe, natural compound that has such a significant effect on immunity in an oncology setting is really quite remarkable,” Dr Helen Fitton said.