Natural wonder: Dal research partnership squeezing added health benefits from the north Atlantic sea cucumber

- September 15, 2022

The Faculty of Agriculture's Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe, shown far left, and members of the Dal research team working to isolate unique food bioactives in the sea cucumber. (Provided photo)
The Faculty of Agriculture's Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe, shown far left, and members of the Dal research team working to isolate unique food bioactives in the sea cucumber. (Provided photo)

A research partnership led by Dalhousie is helping develop new value food ingredients and natural health products from the north Atlantic sea cucumber.

Sea cucumbers, a group of marine invertebrates, have long been known as traditional health-promoting food and a source of folk medicine for thousands of years in Asian countries, especially China, Japan, and Korea. Sea cucumbers have been documented in handbooks of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Compendium of Materia Medica in 1579, and are called ‘haishen’ in Chinese, meaning sea ginseng.

The project is led by Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe, a professor of functional foods and nutraceuticals in the Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences at the Faculty of Agriculture.

Industry partner AKSO Marine Biotech Inc. and the Mitacs Accelerate Program are funding the project to develop a consumer-friendly and economically sound process to extract bioactives from north Atlantic sea cucumber and to assess their potential health-enhancing properties. AKSO currently produces NOVA SEA ATLANTIC® sea cucumber capsules, an award-winning natural health product.

“In this value-added process, we are isolating a unique group of food bioactives,” Dr. Rupasinghe explains. “We have already identified some unique bioactives not reported before and these will be assessed for their efficacy in managing infection-induced hypercytokinemia, a cause of organ damage or failure due to some bacterial and viral infections."

Enhancing immunity

Dr. Rupasinghe is collaborating with Dr. Christian Lehmann, a physician and professor of the Department of Anesthesia at Dalhousie Medical School, to assess the potential immunity enhancement by supplementation of new bioactive-enriched extracts prepared through this project.

“We are excited about this food bioactive as a medicinal concept and using a pre-clinical experimental model of pneumonia to investigate molecular mechanisms of efficacy,” says Dr. Lehmann.

Once the new-manufacturing process is completed at Dalhousie, AKSO will manufacture the new Natural Health Product in Nova Scotia and distribute to the global health food ingredient and nutraceutical market.

Dr. Oladapo Fagbohun, a postdoctoral fellow on this project, expressed his excitement at working with Dalhousie University.

“This project has given me the opportunity of integrating multiple disciplines of natural product chemistry, food bioscience, and medicine and interacting with industry to answer real-world challenges,” he said.

Dr. Chris Cutler, professor and associate dean of research at the Faculty of Agriculture, says the project illustrates Dal's power in facilitating valuable research partnerships.

“This is an excellent example of the strength of Dalhousie University to make interdisciplinary investigations on the impact of food on human health," he says.


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