More than 32 leading scientists from 16 countries presented research papers about a product produced from the antler of elk and red deer during a symposium in Banff, Canada, in early April. Internationally recognized authorities on human nutrition and skeletal and vascular disorders presented their findings and data to support claims that velvet antler is effective for non-prescription medical uses and as a nutraceutical.
Coming from New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Germany, Russia, Australia, England, Canada, United States, and other countries, these well-known researchers presented papers at the first international symposium on Antler Science and Product Technology. The two-and-a-half day symposium focused on antler biology and growth factors, antler chemistry and bioactives, antler clinical/medical efficacy, antler nutraceuticals, and emerging technologies of antler removal.
Velvet antler has been used as a wellness product in eastern culture medicine for more than 3,000 years. More recently, scientists using western scientific methodology, have taken an active interest in learning more about the biological and immunological activity exhibited by velvet antler as a treatment for certain human and animal diseases.
"This symposium linked the west to the east and united scientists with the business community," said Dr. Jeong Sim, symposium chair and faculty member at the University of Alberta. "World class researchers from many different disciplines looked at velvet antler from a scientific basis, beyond its traditional herbal medicinal uses. The symposium has helped industry build a strong scientific foundation and increase the credibility of velvet antler among researchers, the medical community, and consumers."
Speaking at an early session, Dr. Jo Price, Bone and Mineral Centre, London, said, "Mammals do not have the ability to regenerate appendages, the one exception being the annual re-growth of antlers." Because elk retain the ability to regenerate large complex structures of skin, cartilage and bone, she questioned why other mammalian organs can only institute repair. Her research findings examined whether antler regeneration involved the same molecular mechanism as embryonic limb development.
Dr. Peter Ghosh, Institute of Bone and Joint Research, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia, said that deer antler cartilage has been used for centuries as a treatment for arthritis and related disorders. "Adult articular cartilage is incapable of repairing itself when damaged, and these injuries can lead to joint failure and osterarthritis," he said. In laboratory tests Dr. Ghosh said that a dose between two and five milligrams per kilogram of velvet antler given daily orally to laboratory animals slowed down the progression of swelling of joints. He hypothesized that velvet antler could be used to treat these problems.
His research report described how he isolated a gene corresponding to type II collagen in velvet antler, the same gene that is found in the embryonic tissue of human fetuses. He first confirmed the presence of type II collagen and proteoglycans in deer antler cartilage. Then he probed the RNA isolated from these animals and found that the cells corresponded to the type II collagen in the early stages of chrondrogenesis.
"We are hopeful that the Collagen II Related Antler Matrix Protein (CRAMP) gene can be transfixed into injured cartilage cells at the time of arthroscopy so they can lay down a new matrix to repair the lesion," he said. "I believe deer antler cartilage has a lot to offer as a course of new potential therapeutic modality."
More than 300 people attended the Antler Science and Product Technology symposium. Of special interest to those present were papers on pantogematogens (PG) presented by leading researchers from Russia's PantoProject. Dr. E. D. Goldberg, Tomsk Scientific Center, Biysk, said that pantogematogens promote the adaptation of humans to physically heavy conditions and mentally stressful conditions. "In contrast to the plant based adaptogens such as ginseng, rhodiola, and others, PG showed significant enhancement to the basic EEG rhythms of the brain," he said. "PG showed immune-modulating effects, improved functions of sexual activity, enhanced mental alertness, and physical performance of athletes."
Dr. Gregory Mundy, MD, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Tex, reported on his research with velvet antler and osteoporosis. He said that 30 million American women are currently at risk and possibly three times that number worldwide. Patients with established osteoporosis have lost more than 50 percent of their bone in critical sites in the skeleton. They require treatment with agents that will increase bone mass substantially and restore disrupted trabecular bone microarchitecture.
"Antler growth represents possibly the most rapid example of bone formation in the animal kingdom," said Dr. Mundy. "During growth, antler cells express a wide range of growth regulatory peptides that are incorporated into the antler bone matrix. Some of these peptides are present in normal human and bovine bone." He said bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) have powerful effects on bone formation. Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) stimulate bone formation systemically, restore trabecular bone microarchitecture, and enhance fracture repair. But he pointed out that neither peptide could be used as systemic therapeutic agents because they will not survive the digestion process.
However, Dr. Mundy reported that he was able to stimulate bone formation in laboratory animals that had osteoporosis. He characterized the BMP2 gene promoter in deer and human tissue and used it to screen and identify small compounds that enhance peptide transcription by bone cells and subsequent bone formation systemically.
The Antler Science and Product Technology symposium attracted a number of elk breeders from throughout North America. They expressed interest in what scientists had studied and how the information could be used to enhance market opportunities for velvet antler.
"This symposium brings together the researchers from around the world and velvet antler producers from North America to investigate the efficacy of the product," said Mike Kilpatrick, president, North American Elk Breeders Association. "Velvet antler is a major 'crop' of growing elk, and the elk industry itself has been growing widespread in North America for the last 10 years. It is one of the bright spots in agriculture. This conference adds further credibility to the benefits of velvet antler taken by people for joint pain relief and other applications."
"The symposium definitely covered a lot of the scientific end of velvet antler production, the medical efficacy, and the role velvet antler plays in keeping consumers healthy," said Don Bamber, president, Alberta Elk Breeders Association. "It will add an abundance of credibility to the health and wellness claims of our velvet antler product. Because of our strong interest in elk production, I was particularly pleased that the symposium was held at Banff, Alberta, Canada."
"Velvet antler is a very interesting new supplement in western medicine," adds Dr. Rich Beamon, MD and a member of the Elk Research Council. "It's been used for millenniums in the orient. The Orientals have always accepted velvet antler as a valuable medicine, a medicine that they take to continue to be well." He noted that as baby boomers begin to feel the effects of aging, they search for something to increase their productivity, lengthen their life, and make them feel well. "As a supplement, velvet antler has established a long history of success," said Dr. Beamon. "This conference looked at velvet antler in terms of scientifically proving what eastern medicine has already witnessed over time."