Presented at American Chemical Society National Meeting
BOSTON, August. 22,
2002 — A compound from baker’s yeast (BETA GLUCAN), used to
make bread rise, may one day help protect people against deadly
anthrax infections, according to researchers.
In laboratory tests,
the compound, called WGP Beta Glucan, significantly increased the
survival rate of mice infected with lethal anthrax spores.
Researchers believe the compound can be developed into a potent
drug that has a similar effect on humans. Their findings were
presented today at the 224th national meeting of the American
Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
WGP Beta Glucan is a
patented form of beta 1,3-glucan, a polysaccharide derived from
the cell wall of baker’s yeast and other natural sources. Beta
1,3-glucan’s potential health benefits, particularly its
immune-enhancing properties, have been the subject of numerous
The current study
represents the first demonstration that a specific form of beta
1,3-glucan can enhance the immune system’s ability to kill
anthrax spores, and that it can do so orally, says Gary R. Ostroff,
Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Biopolymer
Engineering Inc., in Eagan, Minn.
The study involved 80
mice, all of which were infected with a lethal dose of deadly
anthrax spores. Of the 20 that received a placebo treatment, 30 to
50 percent survived. Of the 60 mice given beta glucan, 75 to 100
percent survived, the researcher said.
mechanism of the glucan compound is not completely understood, it
appears to work by binding to and strengthening macrophages,
immune cells that are the first line of defense against bacterial
infection. As a result, the cells fight harder against infection.
In the case of anthrax, the fortified macrophage cells appear to
kill the bacterial spores before they have a chance to germinate
and spawn the deadly toxins that can quickly overwhelm a
less-protected immune system, the researcher explained.
Studies are planned
to determine the level of immune system protection that glucan
offers specifically against anthrax spores, Ostroff said. The
compound could potentially be developed into a drug that would
work synergistically with existing anthrax therapies, including
vaccines and antibiotics and antibodies to the anthrax toxin, he
Funding for this
study was provided by Biopolymer Engineering Inc.; the Defense
Research Establishment Suffield, Alberta, Canada; and Biophage
Pharma Inc., Montreal, Canada.
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The paper on this
research, CARB 99, will be presented at 1:20 p.m., Thursday, Aug.
22, at Sheraton Boston, Republic B, as part of the topic “General
Contributed Papers: Biochemistry of Carbohydrates.”