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Starfish inspire inflammation research

Posted on 10/12/2010


Scientists at King’s are working on creating versions of starfish compounds in the search for treatments for inflammatory conditions such as asthma, hay fever and arthritis.

Most man-made objects placed in sea water become covered with marine life, but starfish manage to keep their surface clear. This non-stick property is particularly interesting to King’s scientists working on finding new ways to treat inflammation in humans.

The species of starfish researchers are looking at is the spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis), and in particular the chemicals found in the slimy substance that covers its body.

Inflammatory conditions are caused when the immune system spirals out of control in response to an injury or infection.

White blood cells normally flow easily through blood vessels, but when the immune system is exacerbated, they build up and stick to the blood vessel wall. This can cause tissue damage.

Researchers say that a treatment based on starfish slime could coat blood vessels in the same way the slimy substance covers the sea creature, and prevent this from happening.

Clive Page, Professor of Pharmacology at King’s, said: ‘The starfish have effectively done a lot of the hard work for us. Normally when you are trying to find a new drug to go after a particular target in human beings, you have to screen hundreds of molecules to find something that will give you a lead.

'The starfish is effectively providing us with something that is giving us different leads: it has had billions of years in evolution to come up with molecules that do specific things.’

The team has identified promising compounds and is now working on creating their own versions of them in the laboratory. They want to create a treatment that is inspired by substances found on starfish rather than one that is made from it.

Professor Page said: ‘Conceptually we know this is the right approach. It's not going to happen tomorrow afternoon, but we are learning all the time from nature about how to find new medicines.’

Notes to editors

King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2010 QS international world rankings), The Sunday Times 'University of the Year 2010/11' and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,000 students (of whom more than 8,600 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 5,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit:

For further information please contact Emma Reynolds, Press Officer at King’s College London, on 0207 848 4334 or email

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