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 scientific studies.
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.
Although the 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 added.
Funding for this study was provided by Biopolymer Engineering Inc.; the Defense Research Establishment Suffield, Alberta, Canada; and Biophage Pharma Inc., Montreal, Canada.
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."
Gary R. Ostroff, Ph.D., is vice president of research and development and chief scientist at Biopolymer Engineering, Inc., in Eagan, Minn.
-- Mark T. Sampson