Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Elusive cancer killer’s deep-sea hideout discovered after a nearly 20-year hunt

28.10.2003


In 1984, HARBOR BRANCH scientists exploring deep waters off the Bahamas in one of the institution’s Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles discovered a small piece of sponge that harbored a chemical with a remarkable ability to kill cancer cells in laboratory tests. Despite almost two decades of searching, though, the group was never able to find enough of the sponge to fully explore its potential. But now that process can finally begin because, thanks to some creative detective work, the team has found the animal’s secret hiding place and collected enough of it to support years of intense research.


The Johnson-Sea-Link I submersible, used to collect the promising sponge
Credit: HARBOR BRANCH


Amy Wright,director of Harbor Branch Biomedical Marine Research (right) and Shirley Pomponi, Harbor Branch vice-president and director of research, aboard the R/V Seward Johnson II sorting samples after a drug discovery submersible dive.
Credit: HARBOR BRANCH



"It’s just amazing," says Amy Wright, director of HARBOR BRANCH Biomedical Marine Research, of the sponge she has been on a career-long quest to find. "This is our next cure, I know it’s our next cure."

A chemical produced within the sponge, which has not yet been given an official name, has proven in one test of cancer-fighting potential to be about 400 times more potent than Taxol®, a widely used treatment for breast and other forms of cancer. As important, preliminary experiments have also shown the compound to be fairly non-toxic to normal cells.


But the limited amount of the sponge initially collected was not enough to carry the team through the long process of developing a potential medical treatment, which involves careful study of exactly how a chemical kills cancer cells and of its chemical structure. "Since 1984 it has been on our target list for every dive," says Wright, who first studied the compound as a postdoctoral fellow at HARBOR BRANCH during the ’80s.

On various expeditions over the years, scientists found only tiny pieces of the sponge, then last year two slightly larger pieces, but still they did not have enough to do the required research. So, in preparation for a cruise this year to the Bahamas that ran from Oct. 9 through the 24th, Wright and her team used clues from where each piece had been collected to put together a profile of the habitat where it must live.

The technique worked perfectly, and on the first submersible dive targeting an area that fit the profile, they found the sponge. "You know, you have these hypotheses, but when it is actually there, it just floors you that the hypothesis worked," says Wright, "We were really excited. I was just dancing around."

The sponge was found in water over 1,000 feet deep in an area the researchers often refer to as the "dead zone," because it is generally characterized by bare rock and very low biodiversity. The sponge, which can grow to about the size of a softball, had eluded researchers for so long because they generally avoid this area in favor of exploring more diverse habitats.

Wright predicts that the quantity of the sponge collected on the expedition using the submersible should be enough to carry the team through the full multi-year drug discovery process, possibly even to the first phase of human trials. "I never thought I would see that much of the sponge ever," says Wright, "Now we have enough to move forward."

If the chemical continues to show promise as the research process progresses, it would eventually be licensed to a pharmaceutical company, which would take the compound through clinical trials. A key step before that could happen would be for HARBOR BRANCH and its collaborators to develop a method to sustainably produce the chemical without having to collect it from wild sponges, which would be both economically and ecologically unfeasible. Possible methods would be raising the sponge through aquaculture, producing it synthetically, or, if the chemical turns out to be produced by a microorganism within the sponge, raising cultures of that microorganism. The full process of turning the chemical into a commercially available cancer treatment would likely take more than a decade.

The mystery sponge’s hideout was found on an expedition to the Bahamas that covered some 1,300 miles and took the team throughout the island chain almost as far south as the Turks and Caicos Islands. For more information about this expedition as well as background articles on the team’s research, please visit HARBOR BRANCH’s online expedition site at: http://www.at-sea.org

HARBOR BRANCH has already patented nearly a hundred potential pharmaceuticals from the tens of thousands of the organisms the Biomedical Marine Research group has collected since the ’80s at sites around the globe. Several of these are in various stages of development as potential commercial drugs. Discodermolide, a compound produced by a deepwater sponge found in the Bahamas, is currently in the first phase of human trials as a cancer treatment.

Mark Schrope | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.hboi.edu/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes
24.04.2017 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Fraunhofer HHI with latest VR technologies at NAB in Las Vegas

24.04.2017 | Trade Fair News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>