Inspired by the blue crayfish's ability to rapidly build its shell using a unique form of calcium, an Israeli company says it could help develop treatments for various diseases. Rinat Harash has more.
The latest ingredient used by scientists in the fight against disease …..the blue crayfish. On this farm deep in the southern Israeli desert the crustaceans have been raised for decorative purposes for years. But farmer Yossi Ben noticed his band of Australian Blue Crayfish had an unusual trait. SOUNDBITE (Hebrew) YOSSI BEN, FARMER, CEO AND CHAIRMAN OF 'AMORPHICAL', SAYING: "These crayfish build shells 10 times faster than any other crustacean around the world. The shell is built from calcium. Then I discovered a little cell called a gastrolith, comprised of calcium that the crayfish produces or collects. I took this organ to scientists who studied it and it became clear that the entire world was looking for it." Scientists put the gastrolith under the microscope and were astonished by what they saw - a form of calcium called stable amorphous calcium carbonate. Calcium deficiency in humans can lead to osteoporosis. The calcium found in the crayfish is at least a hundred times more soluble in water than common crystalline forms of calcium available on the market. It also has double the absorption rate. Ben has set up a biotech firm he's called Amorphical, to manufacture synthetic supplements made from it. He says animal tests showed prevention of bone loss from osteoporosis. A clinical trial run by scientists for the company showed postmenopausal women absorbed the supplements at twice the rate of crystalline calcium. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR NACHUM VAISMAN, FORMER HEAD OF CLINICAL NUTRITION UNIT IN THE TEL AVIV SOURASKY MEDICAL CENTRE WHO CONDUCTED CLINICAL TRIAL FOR 'AMORPHICAL', SAYING: "I think this is a revolution. // The question that we still have to show, and we've shown it at least on animals, is that this calcium once it comes into the body, into the blood, is really put in the bone, in the right places." Accoridng to Ben, clinical trials on Israeli cancer patients will begin next year after animal tests showed changes in the behaviour of affected cells.