Marine organisms represent a highly diverse reserve of bioactives which could aid in the treatment of a wide range of diseases, including various musculoskeletal conditions.

Osteoporosis, in particular, would benefit from a novel and effective marine-based treatment, due to its large disease burden and the inefficiencies of current treatment options.

Osteogenic bioactives have been isolated from many marine organisms, including nacre powder derived from molluscan shells and fucoidan—the sulfated polysaccharide commonly sourced from brown macroalgae.

Such extracts and compounds are known to have a range of osteogenic effects, including stimulation of osteoblast activity and mineralization, as well as suppression of osteoclast resorption.

This review describes currently known soluble osteogenic extracts and compounds from marine invertebrates and algae and assesses their preclinical potential.

Osteoporosis is particularly prevalent in aged populations, a fact which is daunting considering estimations that by 2030 20% of Europeans and 30% of the US population will be over the age of 65.

Marine organisms

It is therefore in the best interests of patients, governments and health services to develop effective treatment options now. Furthermore, should an effective osteogenic bioactive be found, there are many more clinical applications for such a therapy.

This review has demonstrated that marine organisms, such as mollusks and algae, are a highly promising source of osteogenic compounds. Algal sources, in particular, show excellent potential, as there are already indications of activity with limited study effort.

This, coupled with other factors like ease of sampling, their great diversity, large secondary metabolite production, and quick growth times, make them excellent candidates as target source organisms.

Despite the possibility for drug discovery within this field, current research is highly limited. Compared to the huge diversity of marine organisms, only a fraction have been tested for their bioactivity, and even fewer specifically for osteogenic activity.

More research is required across all taxonomic groups. At present, in vitro descriptions of activity are generally well detailed, though many studies lack identification of the bioactive structure and mechanism of action.

Furthermore, in vivo work is limited and needs greater focus in future studies, whilst human trials are even rarer—though arguably this is a reflection of the current phase of much research within the field.

In conclusion, marine bioactives are a highly promising reserve of osteogenic compounds, as well as bioactives in general. The dearth of research in this area increases discovery potential, making it an exciting field to conduct research in.

Greater study effort would likely lead to the discovery of effective treatment options for osteoporosis and other conditions, reducing health care burden and improving patient quality of life.