In studies led by Dr Jonathan Reichner, researchers cultured immune cells called macrophages with Imprime PGG, a compound derived from the cell walls of yeast. When stimulated by a bacterial endotoxin, these cells were found to produce no inflammatory cytokines in addition to those generated naturally, but did, nonetheless, prime immune cells.
Side effects experienced by patients taking compounds which do not inhibit the production of cytokines (potentially harmful proteins) may include fever, joint pain, malaise and leaky capilliaries.
"One of the drawbacks with pharmaceutical compounds designed to stimulate the immune system has been the side-effects associated with the over-expression of certain cytokines that patients cannot tolerate," said Dr Reichner. In pre-clinical study conducted in rats, Imprime PGG was shown to stimulate immune cell function without eliciting cytokines.
He told NutraIngredients-USA.com that the studies using Biothera's insoluble beta glucan will take place in the summer in collaboration with the University of Louisville.
The company currently markets insoluble beta glucan as an immune-enhancing functional food ingredient called WGP3-6 and as a dietary supplement under its own Lifesource Basics and Imucell brand names. The recommended dose is 2mg per kilogram of body weight.
Reichner envisages its expanded use at higher doses, such as 5 grams a day, as a complement to conventional immunotherapies - for example, to aid the recovery of white blood cells in people who have come out of cancer radiation therapy. However it could be several years before studies into the effects of long term use of beta glucan at high, therapeutic dosages are completed.
At this stage it is not clear exactly how the results seen in Imprime PGG are achieved but the hypothesis is that the beta glucan produces transcription factors that block the DNA synthesis of cytokines.
According to Reichner, Biothera's Imprime PGG is the only product that has been shown to prime immune cells without eliciting cytokines.