MUSC Researchers Uncover New Seafood Concern

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A toxin found in seafood may pose an even more serious threat to human health than previously believed, according to new research from the Medical University of South Carolina.

The study published this month in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology demonstrated that domoic acid causes kidney damage in mice. While domoic acid has already been linked with brain damage – sea lions who feast on sardines and anchovies with high levels of domoic acid “go crazy and die,” MUSC associate professor Michael Janech is quoted as saying in a release announcing the study’s results – the researchers say the kidney is the more sensitive organ in this case: They documented kidney damage at concentrations 100 times lower than the level associated with brain damage.

Although the findings have not yet been extended to humans, the researchers are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to revisit its domoic acid standards, which are based on brain damage concerns.

“The fact that we’ve found that domoic acid is so highly toxic to the kidney is novel and new and has not been recognized at all,” P. Darwin Bell, research chair of MUSC’s nephrology department, says.

Domoic acid was first documented in the Gulf a few years ago. The acid is produced by algae, which is blooming more exuberantly in response to the warming of the ocean.

Because the research has not yet been completed, it hasn’t yet produced any guidelines regarding seafood consumption. As the press release puts it, “it’s too early to set off alarm bells.”

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