Aerial view of toxic algae bloom

Aerial view of toxic algae bloom. Photo: URI

J dropcapack Perry reports for the (Rhode Island) Providence Journal that Matthew Bertin, an assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at University of Rhode Island (URI), is working with biotech firm Biosortia Pharmaceuticals Inc., headquartered in San Diego, to study the chemicals produced by algal blooms. He is exploring whether the chemicals may hold the key to reducing neuroinflammation, a primary reason diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s progress, according to URI.

“I’ve always been interested in chemicals produced by harmful algal blooms, specifically as chemotherapeutics,” Dr. Bertin said in a news release. “But beyond these cyanotoxins, I believe there are numerous chemicals available in the microbial world that can be useful in treating diseases ranging from diabetes to Alzheimer’s. These previously inaccessible compounds may provide the next blockbuster treatment for neurodegenerative disease.”

An estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages are currently living with dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Meanwhile, Parkinson’s disease is expected to affect 930,000 Americans by 2020, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Matthew Bertin

Assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at University of Rhode Island, Matthew Bertin, is leading the toxic bloom research.

Dr. Bertin has been studying algal blooms for several years and partnered with Biosortia Pharmaceuticals on a new study a couple of months ago. Riley Kirk, a third-year graduate student in the College of Pharmacy, is working with him, along with some undergraduates.

Biosortia Pharmaceuticals has been able to provide URI with hundreds of chemical compounds harvested from algal blooms for study. Dr. Bertin and Ms. Kirk screen the compounds. While emphasizing that the study “really is in its infancy,” Dr. Bertin says he’s hopeful. “We tested hundreds and we got many hits,” he said. “Many of these mixtures are reducing inflammation in our microgial cell line.”

The chemicals will be purified further to isolate single components for more testing, according to a URI news release. “Follow-up studies will further investigate these promising anti-inflammatories, hopefully moving into animal testing in the near future.”

Dr. Bertin says he’s under no illusions. He knows algal blooms can have a devastating effect on the environment. But, he says, “We do think there are opportunities to leverage the chemicals these things produce to really affect human health in a positive way.”

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