Fresh thyme and oregano usually offer a savory touch to a tasty dish, but a University of Iowa researcher recently discovered natural compounds in the herbs that may offer a treatment for cachexia or “wasting syndrome” as it is more commonly known.

Wasting syndrome is characterized by a loss of weight and muscle atrophy, and largely found in patients who suffer from cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart failure.

In pre-clinical studies, compounds in thyme and oregano have demonstrated a greater than 37 percent increase in exercise tolerance and a 15 percent increase in muscle mass of certain body muscles. The discovery was a “serendipitous finding” in the lab of Rajan Sah, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, whose research centers on studying novel ion channel signaling in metabolism.

“When we exercise and move our muscles, we activate calcium cycling to cause muscle contraction,” said Sah. “This same calcium signal also activates signaling pathways to increase skeletal muscle endurance and also skeletal muscle size. We hypothesized that low level calcium cycling induced by these natural compounds might act as an exercise mimetic and promote improved exercise capacity and overall metabolic health associated with healthy muscle mass. We tested these compounds in sedentary mice and found a dramatic improvement in exercise endurance and a mild increase in muscle size of certain muscle groups.

The intellectual property associated with this discovery was recently licensed by the UI Research Foundation to Innovus Pharma, an emerging over-the-counter consumer goods and specialty pharmaceutical company engaged in the commercialization, licensing and development of safe and effective non-prescription medicine and consumer care products to improve men’s and women’s health and vitality and respiratory diseases. The company plans to develop the discovery into an over-the-counter (OTC) product to combat cachexia.

“The oncology supportive care market is a very large unmet medical market with limited choices to both physicians and patients,” said Bassam Damaj, Chief Executive Officer of Innovus Pharma. “The treatment of cachexia just doesn’t exist. It is a miserable, frequent event that every physician knows about and many patients experience, but there is simply little available against it and nothing to prevent it.”

The UI Research Foundation is part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, which provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.