The seven-month trial, conducted in collaboration with the Brisbane Lions Football Club and Griffith University, began on January 18 in Tasmania, to coincide with the club's pre-season training. The entire team of 45 players has been enrolled in the study, which will examine Maritech fucoidan's short- and long-term impact on their microbiome.
Based on previous research that reported gut inflammation as a result of prolonged and intense exercise, typically by professional athletes, the Australian biotechnology firm sought to conduct a world-first study using its fucoidan, a naturally occurring compound in seaweed, to influence the gut health of athletes.
Stomach for sports
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Marinova's chief scientist Dr Helen Fitton said, "With this clinical trial, we're investigating the effects of Maritech fucoidan on the microbiome, and we'll be looking out for an increase in diversity in gut bacteria.
"One of the good things about this trial is that we have a cohort of young male athletes all doing the same thing at the same time and eating the same food, so it's a consistent group to assess.
"We're looking at faecal samples and doing a full screen to assess the diversity and changes to that diversity in the gut microbiota, as well as the populations of specific bacteria in the gut."
She added that these factors would be measured at baseline, one week into the study, and at 28 weeks (the end of the study).
The researchers are also observing training parameters and any incidence of cough or cold. Fitton explained that if there was a decreased incidence of these ailments over the trial's duration, they would be able to attribute it to increased immunity, possibly due to the athletes' fucoidan intake.
Each participant consumes the extract twice a day in capsule format, ingesting a daily total of 1g of fucoidan.
Firsts for fucoidan
This marks the company's move towards the sports nutrition sector, spurred by its existing pre-clinical research on fucoidan's anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects.
The trial also signifies another first for Marinova, wherein a new proprietary blend of high-purity fucoidan and marine polyphenols, extracted from the Fucus vesiculosus and Undaria pinnatifida seaweed species, has debuted in a clinical trial.
Fitton said, "This is a new blend developed by Marinova — it's not one of our current ingredients. We blended these two fucoidan species because we have positive pre-clinical data for both species, so we wanted to combine them to get maximum benefits in this clinical trial."
According to the pre-clinical data, the blend is able to significantly inhibit the production of major pro-inflammatory biomarkers associated with acute and chronic gut conditions.
Ex vivo tests in human blood found that the blend managed to block the release of three inflammatory mediators — tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) by over 70%, interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) by over 54%, and interleukin six (IL-6) by over 43%. These results have potential implications for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), intestinal inflammation and colon cancer.
In vitro and animal studies also found that Maritech fucoidan inhibited key inflammatory enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract, and alleviated the clinical symptoms and pathology of ulcerative colitis.
Future of fucoidan
Apart from its gut health benefits, Maritech fucoidan is said to also benefit immune health, as well as bone and joint health
According to Fitton, Marinova's pre-clinical data on how its fucoidan influenced inflammation produced positive results, and was a "good place to start exploring those effects further".
She added, "It's also good for bone and joint health, so if an athlete is experiencing soreness in his knees or elsewhere, fucoidan could really benefit him."
Furthermore, she said, the two fucoidan species being used in the current study possessed immune-boosting properties: "We'll be measuring that while looking at the incidence of respiratory and other ailments during the course of the trial."
While the current study's subjects are consuming Maritech fucoidan in capsule format, Fitton said the product's high water solubility made it quite versatile in terms of possible delivery formats. For instance, it could come in convenient gel and beverage formats for professional athletes.
These properties, as well as the promising pre-clinical data on Maritech fucoidan so far, are driving Marinova's NPD (new product development) ambitions, particularly in the sports nutrition sector.
Fitton said, "This new clinical trial will help us launch into the sports category, which is an area Marinova hasn’t been in before. We hope to launch these new ingredients after the trial, if the results are positive.
"There aren't many marine ingredients currently in the sports category, but we have great pre-clinical research on the potential of such ingredients for sports nutrition.
"If the clinical research also produces positive results, it would create a new opportunity to bring marine and seaweed ingredients into the sports nutrition sector."