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Sunday, August 1, 1999 Published at 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK


Mussel offers cancer hope

Could waters around New Zealand help in the fight against cancer ?

Experts have identified a possible new weapon in the fight against cancer - a green-lipped mussel from the southern seas.

The BBC's Lucy Hockings: Possibly a new tool against cancer
Extracts from the mussel, which thrives in the waters around New Zealand, have been used for some time to alleviate the pains of arthritis, but scientists now believe they also have an anti-cancer action.

More than 100 cancer sufferers are to participate in human trials to discover the full scope of the marine extract, which it is hoped will be effective against prostate and breast cancers.

[ image: Lyprinol is already on sale in British pharmacies]
Lyprinol is already on sale in British pharmacies
The natural arthritis remedy, marketed under the name Lyprinol, is already available in British pharmacies.

Researchers say that the trials may also be expanded to hospitals in Britain and Scandinavia, and to other forms of cancer.

Pioneering research

Dr Henry Betts, principle research scientist in the Rheumatology Research Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide, was amazed to find that in test tube trials Lyprinol killed cancer cells in 24 hours.

He said: "There have been countless new drugs that seem to kill cancer cells in test tube, but fail in the human body.

[ image: Dr Henry Betts made his discovery while assessing the effect Lyprinol has on arthritis]
Dr Henry Betts made his discovery while assessing the effect Lyprinol has on arthritis
"We know Lyprinol works in the body based on its current history. This new trial is simply an exciting extension of that usage.

"We had been working on Lyprinol for several years, assessing its efficacy for arthritis and asthma, not realising that the same metabolic pathways are involved in cancer."

If successful in human tests, the mussel oil extract will provide a natural alternative for cancer treatment without the side effects of normal drugs.

Professor Robert Borland, Lyprinol researcher added: "We are talking about a material which is natural which is not going to do any harm to an individual.

"What is more it is nutritionally beneficial."

Note of caution

The New Zealand mussel industry looks set to reap big benefits - of all the shell fish tested the green lipped mussel is the only variety that contains the cancer killing oil.

[ image: The green lipped mussel is a delicacy]
The green lipped mussel is a delicacy
But there are fears it may not be able to keep up with the huge demand if the human trials have a positive outcome.

Mussel grower, Jim Broadbent said: "I really frankly don't know how we would grow enough mussels in New Zealand to meet the demand if this proves to be successful"

The New Zealand Cancer society is also warning cancer patients not to rely on the green lipped mussel to kill deadly cancer cells, until further tests are conducted.

Chief executive Jo Bransgrove said: "It is important to sound a note of caution to people because until it has been through its clinical trials it is unproven."

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