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New Asthma Drugs Devised by NTU Professors

In recent years the cases of allergic asthma have increased steadily in Taiwan. Take Taipei, for instance, the incidence rate of asthma for school children has increased from 5.8% in 1995 to 20.7% in 2009, becoming a great threat to public health. At present the drugs applied to the treatment of asthma consist primarily of cortico-steroids. Although steroids are basically effective, but the side effects of which worry a lot of patients. After three years of collaborative research, Professor Bor-Luen Chiang of the Institute of Clinical Medicine and Professor Hong-Nong Chou of the Institute of Fisheries Science discovered that purified phycocyanin could significantly reduce the number of inflammatory cells in the airways of humans and their resistance. Their research findings were published in the No.1 journal of respiratory studies “The American Journal of Respiratory and Intensive Care Medicine.” After the two professors apply for patents, their new treatment method can enter into the clinical trial phase.

Professor Chiang said, although the steroids used currently for the treatment of allergic asthma are effective in inhibiting inflammation, but they also promote type II allergies (caused by T helper cells), so the steroids are no good for the long term development of the disease. In order to find a more effective treatment, Professor Chiang and his research team capitalized on a grant from the National Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Program which allowed them to screen thousands of compounds and purified materials. After three years of strenuous research, Professor Chiang’s team discovered that the phycocyanin provided by Professor Hong-Nong Chou of the Institute of Fisheries Science had very good results,. So they went one step further to study the functions and influence of phycocyanin towards immune cells (including dendritic cells and T lymphocytes).

They applied purified phycocyanin to the treatment of asthma, and discovered that after treatment, the concentration of allergic antibody in the patients has significantly decreased, their number inflammatory cells have been reduced and the effects of resistance have been improved to the extent that the patients resembled normal mice in the laboratories.

In the meantime, as the therapeutic function of phycocyanin is regulated by the immune response to ameliorate the effects of allergic asthma, so no side effects will be seen in patients. Professor Chiang stressed that, because the mechanisms of phycocyanin and steroids are different, they could even be combined to increase future applications. So far this discovery has been aided by National Taiwan University and the National Science Council to apply for patents in Taiwan and in the United States. Because this is a completely new finding, patents should be granted smoothly within a year. The major significance and future applications of this research findings are:

In the past, when Taiwan wanted to develop new drugs or nutrition foods the researchers basically utilized land-based resources, such as mushrooms or extracts from plants. This research is the first evidence that proves that phycocyanin are effective in promoting the immune functions of the patients, and are particularly effective in improving the allergic immune diseases, so they can be developed into drugs to treat allergic asthma.

Because phycocyanin are excellent in regulating the immune response of the patients, they can be further development to treat tumors or infectious diseases in the future. Professor Chou of the Institute of Fisheries Science had previously studied the effects of other algal bile pigment proteins against viruses and found them to be positive as well.

Because asthma is a respiratory disease, the research team hopes to develop phycocyanin into a drug that can be inhaled by patients. Currently the second phase of The National Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Program has built-in functions of toxicity assessment and formulation development, so clinical tests can be expected soon under the support of the national program. Taiwan has abundant marine resources. Finding functional proteins in algae should be an important direction for future research and development. Because the algae are also edible, their toxicity awaits further assessment, but the proteins which they contain should be of a more secure sort. Utilizing our abundant marine resources to produce these valuable proteins in large quantities and applying them to nutrition and medicine purposes should bring a new direction for Taiwan bio-medical industries.

Chinese version