Aquatic plant blocks COVID-19 spread, researchers say

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Seaweed extract may be effective in treating the coronavirus, according to a new report. 

In a letter to the editor, Jonathan Dordick, PhD in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and his team showed an edible portion of the plant containing heparin was just as effective as remdesivir in neutralizing the coronavirus. The experiment was conducted in vitro.

Heparin is a blood thinner and acts as a decoy cell when the virus is injected into a test tube, researchers found. Instead of binding to healthy cells, the coronavirus virus spike proteins latched onto the seaweed extracts. 

While they can’t say exactly why the mechanism is effective, the decoy method has proven successful in blocking the spread of other viruses such as Zika, dengue and influenza A, authors write.

“What interests us is a new way of getting at the infections,” Robert Linhardt, co-author and also a professor at Rensselaer, said in a news release. “The current thinking is that the COVID-19 infection starts in the nose and [the substance] could be used for a nasal spray. If you could simply treat the infection early or even before you have the infection, you would have a way of blocking it before it enters the body.”

The study is published online in the latest issue of Cell Discovery.

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral science researcher. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over five years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets.