Spirulina molecule could reduce kidney conditions

Spirulina molecule could reduce kidney conditions

Claudia Villalobos

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) predict that in 2050 close to 40 million people will require attention for kidney problems in Mexico. To help reduce the rates of this type of disease, scientists from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN) are focusing their studies on the search for innocuous treatments to slow them down.

The research group of the Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Biológicas (ENCB), formed by doctors Margarita Franco Colín, Vanessa Blas Valdivia, and Edgar Cano Europa, has been studying Spirulina (Atrospira maxima) for 15 years and testing its therapeutic effect in animal models (rats) with acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune glomerulonephritis.


Ph.D. and Master's degree students in Chemical Biological Sciences, Zayra Mundo Franco and Cristian Omar García Hernández, respectively, and Pedro Yoshua Villacaña Enriquez, a student of the Bachelor's degree in Chemical Bacteriology and Parasitology, are participating in the research. Specialists from the IPN's Unidad Profesional Interdisciplinaria de Biotecnología (Upibi), Brenda Camacho, and Roberto Campos have contributed to scaling up the laboratory process. ENCB professor and researcher Plácido Rojas Franco has been part of the team since he was an undergraduate student.

Therapeutic Molecule

Acute kidney injury is a broad clinical syndrome that produces an abrupt failure of kidney functions, the etiology of which is multifactorial. The first causes are chronic degenerative diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension; conditions such as lupus or cancer; and environmental factors such as exposure to pollutants.

In all the evaluations carried out by the polytechnic specialists, the protective effect of Spirulina has been observed. However, to deepen the studies, they purified the C-phycocyanin molecule, which is one of the phycocyanobilins contained in the algae.

When tested in rodents, the researchers observed that in small doses it has the same therapeutic effect as full Spirulina in delaying kidney damage and avoiding complications such as hypertension.

Experiments When damage occurs in the kidneys, these organs no longer perform their functions properly. Different medications can help those who suffer from this type of disease; however, they can generate side effects.

The experiments consisted of supplying the rodents intragastrically with the antioxidant-rich molecule C-phycocyanin. Although the time of administration and the dose depended on the duration and type of condition, the polytechnic scientists reported that in all cases a beneficial effect was observed in lowering blood pressure, since the antioxidants act favorably on the vascular endothelium, whose function is to regulate systemic blood flow.

Complementary treatment The different conditions that affect kidney functions are related to a decrease in the capacity of these organs to eliminate toxic substances contained in urine and to adequately filter the blood.

When left untreated, these conditions progress to more serious stages, culminating in the need for renal replacement therapy or death. If not detected in time, it can progress to chronic kidney damage and lead to dialysis, hemodialysis, transplantation, or even death.

Since the results obtained by the IPN researchers are promising, they will seek to delay kidney disease through the use of C-phycocyanin, since this molecule has a structure that allows it to delay the cardiovascular complications derived from this disease. However, the scientists emphasized that this treatment would be complementary and would not replace the pharmacological therapy prescribed by doctors. The researchers informed that, even though it is a natural product, to guarantee its safe consumption, toxicity tests were carried out to prove its harmlessness and, due to its high digestibility, it can be consumed without risk by people suffering from diabetes.

Goals Spirulina and C-Phycocyanin have similar effects, which would imply that the cost of purification can be reduced and the beneficial effect can be obtained by consuming the algae without purification, which would be a viable alternative to treat the kidney problems that 70 percent of people with diabetes mellitus, hypertension and obesity present.

IPN scientists observed that, in small doses, the C-phycocyanin molecule has the same effect as the whole Spirulina in delaying kidney damage.

However, IPN researchers are working on the purification of C-phycocyanin. Since obtaining it requires the production of high quantities of Spirulina, the next stage of the project is to install a small pilot plant to cultivate the algae in bioreactors and produce the biomass under specific conditions.

Subsequently, the molecule will be purified and subjected to a spray-drying method to incorporate it into a nutraceutical product and have the possibility of carrying out a clinical study to extend its benefits to the population and thus improve their quality of life.

The polytechnic specialists stressed the importance of promoting self-care and even without presenting symptoms of kidney or urinary tract discomfort, adopt the habit of having an annual medical check-up, especially those who suffer from diabetes, hypertension, or both, since some people, due to the nature of their pathologies, take several doses of medication throughout the day and because the drugs are eliminated through the kidneys, it is important to protect these organs.