Yemoja joins project to identify microalgae for IBD treatment

The campaign is being led by Dr Dorit Avni, a senior researcher for MIGAL Institute

Microalgae cultivation start-up Yemoja is joining the MIGAL Galilee Research institute as part of a four-year research project to identify algae-sourced compounds with the potential to help manage Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Selected beneficial algae will be developed into functional foods as well as nutraceutical and pharmaceutical applications.

The initiative, titled 'Algae4IBD,' was launched in June and has been awarded a grant of €7.5m from the EU funding arm, Horizon 2020. Yemoja is one of a 21-member consortium composed of marine science experts, research institutes, universities, hospitals and IBD centres, and algae cultivation companies. The campaign is being led by Dr Dorit Avni, a senior researcher for MIGAL.

IBD diseases, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease are chronic relapsing disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. They affect more than 2 million Europeans and 1.5 million Americans, and are characterised by prolonged intestinal inflammation.

"We believe a promising solution for this illness could be hiding within the cell walls of microalgae," said Dr Amikam Bar Gil, CTO of Yemoja. "There are some preliminary data within the peer-reviewed literature suggesting that microalgae could harbour anti-inflammatory activity within the digestive tract. Although this arm of research is still in early stages, leaving an ocean of knowledge still needing to be uncovered. This consortium was devised to pioneer the first robust and broadscale inquiry into the positive connection between microalgae and IBD."

The initiative follows research conducted by Avni's team at MIGAL institute. Under this partnership, the company will be responsible for cultivating multiple strains of known and novel microalgae to be screened for potential anti-IBD properties. Several hundred strains will be screened before advancing to clinical trials. The microalgae candidates will be supplied by Yemoja, in conjunction with other algae companies.

"Yemoja operates a cutting-edge, indoor system for cultivating high-value, pure, and uncompromisingly standardised microalgae biomaterials," added Avni. "This is a major advantage when addressing algae-based bioactive compounds. Moreover, Yemoja's photobioreactor technology possesses unique capabilities to simultaneously produce any desired microalgae species, of any required quantity, rendering it ideal for the unique needs of the research project."

The company says its indoor cultivation platform enables it to manipulate environmental parameters such as light, temperature, and pH to achieve high concentrations of the desired bioactive compounds and enhance yields without the threat of contamination. It involves a small-batch production line of vertical luminescent columns. Each one is isolated and allocated a specific algae species.

The company aims to roll out commercial-scale production of several identified successful microalgae candidates that will be used to develop functional food solutions, such as bread, gummies and bars, as well as natural supplements and pharmaceuticals.