In 1984, HARBOR BRANCH scientists exploring deep waters off the Bahamas in one of the institutions 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 animals 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
"Its 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 its 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.
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