Around the Ring

Researchers Find Help from Sea Anemones in Treating Diabetes and Arthritis

UC Irvine researchers found that natural compounds extracted from sea anemones block the autoimmune response in type 1 diabetes. In both human and animal tests, these compounds were found to offset the effect of autoimmune T-cells, which are white blood cells that attack the body. UCI researchers strive to use these compounds to develop new treatments that will destroy these T-cells and allow white blood cells to play their part in fighting disease and infection.

Results from the study appeared in the Nov. 6 to Nov. 10 Early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

UCI researchers George Chandy and Christine Beeton from the School of Medicine headed this study. Their research identifies the way in which these compounds fight against the effector memory T lymphocytes, which plays a significant part in autoimmunity. The compounds from the sea anemones and a shrub plant block an ion channel in T-cells and prevent the cells from producing cytokines, which account for autoimmunity attack.

Specifically, researchers derived compounds from a rue plant and a Cuban sea anemone.

Although white blood cells are meant to protect the body against disease and infection, autoimmune diseases cause the white blood cells to turn against the body and attack instead of protect. Millions of people across the globe are afflicted with autoimmune disorders. Examples of such diseases include type 1 diabetes, in which white blood cells attack the pancreas, and rheumatoid arthritis, in which white blood cells attack the joints.

During one set of tests, which involved the blood samples of type-1 diabetes patients and the fluid from the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers found that compounds from both plants offset the attack of the autoimmune attacking T-cells, without affecting the other T-cells that actually fight infections.

The Chandy laboratory discovered that the compound derived the Cuban sea anemone was effective in treating rats with multiple sclerosis. Researchers will work with AIRMID, a biotech company in the San Francisco Bay Area.