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Headlines Published on 23 July 2004

Title King crab delivers sorely needed skin relief

For certain connoisseurs the king crab rules the seafood menu, but Russian researchers have found that this regal crustacean also holds the cure to an assortment of difficult-to-treat sores and scalds.

Cooking up a cure with king crab © Image: PhotoDisc
Cooking up a cure with king crab
© Image: PhotoDisc
A Russian team of scientists at the Moscow State University has created an ointment that they say can heal previously untreatable scalds, sores and trophic ulcers (ulcers, such as bed sores, caused by faulty nutrition in the affected part). Led by chemist Galina Rudenskaya, the researchers have produced a preparation based on enzymes extracted from the king crab’s heatopancreas – a specially adapted gland that performs the functions of both the liver and the pancreas. The enzymes in question are known as proteases which help proteins to split into smaller amino acids through a process known as proteolysis.

When serious damage to the skin occurs, such as after burns or surgery, the healing process is impeded by small fragments of tissue remaining in the wound. These include collagen, a type of protein found in bone, cartilage, tendon and other connective tissue. Collagen also makes skin resilient and waterproof. These cannot be broken down to single molecules owing to the absence of an essential enzyme called collagenases which decomposes collagen. This can lead to the death of some tissue (necrosis), a slowing down of the healing process, painful puss and ugly scars.

Collagenases is one of the proteases contained in the new Russian preparation. “[It] tears collagen into pieces that are further chewed by other enzymes,” explains Ms Rudenskaya. Prior to the Russian team’s discovery, extracting collagenases was a time-consuming and risky process. These enzymes were extracted from pathogenic microorganisms that could cause gas gangrene. Once the new ointment has broken down the collagen, the next stage is to restore elasticity to the affected area of skin, a treatment for which is being produced by another partner in the project, TRINITA, a pharmaceuticals company.

Spreading the grease
Ms Rudenskaya’s team says that surgeons who took part in the trials are eager to get their hands on the “crab grease”, as they call it. However, only a very small quantity of the ointment, which is still awaiting approval, has so far been produced. In fact, only 100gms of the preparation’s active components have been isolated. However, the Russian team says it has come up with techniques for their isolation and purification.

One of these techniques is affine chromatography, which extracts and purifies active enzymes from the king crab’s internal organs. The extract moves through columns filled with sorbents – materials that sorb, i.e. absorb or adsorb, other substances – which captures the required enzymes from the solution.

The project was funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) and the Foundation for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises (FASIE), a Russian state agency that helps more than 150 SMEs to develop each year. FASIE is affiliated to the EU’s Tacis programme which has been providing grant-financed technical assistance to 12 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the past 13 years.

Nearer to home, basic research is high on the research agenda for the Union’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and is set to become even more important under FP7, if the Commission’s recommendation for a doubling of funds is accepted. Innovative SMEs are also recognised by the EU as a major economic driver and the Commission runs several initiatives, including Innovation Relay Centres, to boost their competitiveness.

Source:  External   sources

Research Contacts page

More information:

  • Moscow State University
  • RFBR (In Russian only)
  • Background on the Tacis programme
  • Gas gangrene definition

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