Researchers find anti-cancer activity in marine seagrass

Ethyl acetate fraction of Halodule uninervis has strong anti-cancer activity

Updated - January 22, 2022 08:45 pm IST

Published - January 22, 2022 01:23 am IST - CHENNAI

In traditional medicine, seagrass has been frequently used for therapeutic purposes like wound-healing.

In traditional medicine, seagrass has been frequently used for therapeutic purposes like wound-healing.

Researchers have found scientific evidence of a strong anti-cancer activity in the ethyl acetate fraction of Halodule uninervis , a species of seagrass found in the coastal region of Mandapam close to Rameswaram in southern Tamil Nadu.

The study, claimed to be the first of its kind, was aimed at evaluating the in-vitro anti-cancer activity of ethyl acetate fraction of this seagrass species against various human cancer cell lines, including malignant melanoma, lung, cervix, carcinoma and colorectal cancers.

The findings, which confirmed the anti-cancer activity in the chemically processed Halodule uninervis , which is abundantly available in the Gulf of Mannar, was published in the latest issue of International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Research . The study was done by a team of researchers, comprising Perumal Parthasarathy and Arthanari Umamaheswari, of the Department of Biology and Plant Biotechnology, Presidency College, and Ravichandran Banupriya and Sanniyasi Elumalai of the Department of Biotechnology, University of Madras. According to Dr. Elumalai, cancer was the second largest cause of death globally. Going by World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, the deaths due to cancer were higher in developed countries than in developing countries. In 2050, the number of new cases was estimated to increase by 24 million and the number of cancer-related deaths by 17 million worldwide. While the options available for treatment included surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy, these methods had severe side-effects. As much as 60% of the drugs used for cancer treatment were derived from natural products.

Quoting scientific data and evidence, Dr. Elumalai said marine natural products, including seagrass, micro- and macro-algae, sponges and corals, played a major role in the discovery of novel biologically active compounds.

“Seagrass is one of the groups of marine angiosperms that often lives entirely submerged and are capable of completing their life cycle in a coastal environment. In traditional medicine, seagrass has frequently been used for a variety of therapeutic purposes such as wound-healing, fever, stomach aches, muscle pains and skin diseases. In addition, they have been used in biomedical applications such as anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral activities,” he said.

Halodule uninervis could generate phytoconstituents, including phenols, flavonoids, tannins, steroids and alkaloids, which are reported to possess promising biological applications, including anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic activities.

Dr. Elumalai said the particular species of seagrass, collected from the Mandapam coastal region, was authenticated by the Botanical Survey of India’s Southern Regional Centre, Coimbatore. The collected seagrass was washed well with running water and then by distilled water. It was allowed to be shade-dried and powdered in a grinder. The powder was then fractionated with ethyl acetate by gentle mixing on a shaker for 72 hours. The ethyl acetate fraction of Halodule uninervis was put through qualitative phytochemical screening, quantitative phytochemical analysis and in-vitro anti-cancer activity, besides other chemical processes.

“Our present study found that the seagrass contains a wide variety of secondary metabolites that hold a strong anti-cancer activity against the A549 cell line. Further, purification of the specific active phytoconstituents and preclinical studies need to be conducted for the discovery of anti-cancer drugs...,” to treat lung cancer and reduced side effects,” Dr. Elumalai said. The next step would be to study the impact on animals, followed by clinical trials.

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