If you have a skin ailment the next time you bring home lobster for dinner, you might want to consider your options before you drop it in the pot.
Lobster industry researchers in Maine say they’ve determined that uncooked lobster hemolymph, or blood, has medicinal properties that can be used to treat viruses that cause warts and shingles.
What’s more, they have put their money where their mouths are by developing a lobster blood-based retail skin care cream called LobsteRx.
The product, developed by Lobster Unlimited LLC is patented but not yet available in stores. Company officials say they intend to market it as a “cosmeceutical” product that can be used to treat dry skin, chapped lips, cold sores, minor cuts and burns.
“I was the guinea pig, and I had some amazing results,” she said.
Bob Bayer, chief scientist for the venture, said Thursday there have been scientific studies that indicate that hemolymph from other marine species, such as clams, snails and shrimp has antiviral properties. He said he knew lobster also had hemolymph and, after testing it out, arrived at the same conclusion.
“We do have data that shows [lobster hemolymph] is antiviral,” Bayer said. “It kills the [herpes simplex] 1 virus.”
Bayer and Billings also work for the Lobster Institute at University of Maine, but Lobster Unlimited, which includes a handful of other partners, is an independent venture not affiliated with the university.
Bayer said they have tested the product with friends and family members and have gotten good results but have not yet put it through any formal scientific testing reviews. He said that they can develop, market and sell the cream as an over-the-counter, topical product without approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Eventually, he added, they hope eventually to develop lobster hemolymph-based pharmaceutical medicines that would require FDA approval.
“There’s more to come on this,” Bayer said.
Unlike hemolymph from other marine species, lobster hemolymph — which turns into a foamy white goo when cooked — already is harvested in large quantities by Maine lobstermen, who in 2015 caught and sold 121 million pounds of the tasty crustacean fro a cumulative total of $495 million. Much of what is caught goes to processors who keep the meat but discard the shell and other body parts.
Bayer said he can get about a gallon of hemolymph out of one crate of lobsters in about 45 minutes. Five million pounds of hemolymph that already pass each year through Maine processing plants would be available for skin care products if collection methods can be streamlined to make large-scale efforts cost effective, he said.
As is, all of the lobster hemolymph passing through processing plants is discarded as a waste product with no monetary value.
“It’s literally being washed down the drain,” Billings said.
The cosmetics industry has $50 billion in annual worldwide revenues, about one-quarter of which is from skin care products alone, according to Billings. Each year, she added, there are millions of cases of skin infections just in the United States that potentially could be treated with LobsteRx.
“The market is as big as the ocean,” she said.
Lobsters are not the first marine species that has turned up in the pharmaceutical or cosmetics industries. The powder-blue blood of horseshoe crabs, whose northern habitat limit is in coastal Maine, is used as a purifying clotting agent in medicines. Seaweed also has become a common additive in dietary supplements and skin care products.
LobsteRx is the latest of several products developed in Maine by researchers looking to find commercial uses for lobster byproducts that are considered waste. Bayer and Billings have been directly involved in the development of golf balls made from lobster shells and dog biscuits made from discarded lobster parts.
Billings and Bayer said they are not sure how soon consumers might be able to buy LobsteRx, the final formula of which has not been determined, but the firm is hoping to make substantial progress toward that goal in 2017.
Bayer said the company, which also has explored ways to convert lobster shells into pest-repelling organic soil fertilizer, has been working with Cape Seafood of Saco on ways to collect hemolymph from lobsters. It also has been working with the School of Pharmacy at Husson University in Bangor and a company that already makes cosmetics, which Bayer declined to identify, to help develop the product.
Lobster Unlimited has received approximately $15,000 in grant funding from Maine Technology Institute and has talked to potential investors about additional funding, according to Billings. This weekend, company officials will appear on the television show Greenlight Maine, facing off against Thomaston eel aquaculture firm American Unagi, in hopes of eventually winning $200,000.
“We have a few irons in the fire,” Billings said.
The Lobster Unlimited officials said LobsteRx and possible similar products could significantly boost the value of Maine’s annual lobster landings, not just for dealers and processors but also for the thousands of Maine men and women who catch lobster for a living.
“It adds value that should be passed on to the fishermen,” Bayer said. “It should be worth a lot.”