Could marine corals be used to treat CANCER? Scientists find cancer-fighting chemical ‘holy grail’ in common soft corals off Florida coast
- The chemical, called eleutherobin, has been shown to have cytotoxic properties
- It was first found in rare coral off the coast of Australia in the 1990s.
- Since then, scientists have not been able to find it in sufficient quantities
- Now scientists have found the chemical in common soft corals near Florida
Scientists have taken a big step forward in the search for a new treatment for cancer, after discovering a ‘holy grail’ natural cancer-fighting chemical in common soft corals.
The chemical, called eleutherobin, was once identified in a rare coral near Australia in the 1990s, but since then scientists have been unable to find it in sufficient quantities to use in the laboratory.
Now researchers from the University of Utah have found that the elusive chemical is also produced by common soft corals living off the coast of Florida.
The team now hopes to recreate the soft coral in the lab, hoping to produce the chemical in the large quantities needed for rigorous testing.
One day, the chemical could be used as a new tool to fight cancer, according to the team.
Scientists have taken a big step forward in the search for a new treatment for cancer, after discovering a ‘holy grail’ natural cancer-fighting chemical in common soft corals (pictured)
Eleutherobin is used by soft corals as a defense against predators, with the chemical disrupting the cytoskeleton – a key scaffolding in cells.
However, laboratory studies have shown that the compound can also inhibit cancer cell growth.
Growing up in Florida, Dr. Paul Scesa, the study’s first author, suspects that corals in the area could contain the elusive chemical.
Dr. Scesa brought small live samples of coral from Florida to the lab in Utah, where the real hunt began.
While previous studies have suggested that eleutherobin is made by symbiotic organisms living inside corals, the researchers suspected that was not the case.
“It didn’t make any sense,” Dr. Scesa said. “We knew that corals had to produce eleutherobin.”
Growing up in Florida, Dr Paul Scesa (pictured), first author of the study, suspects corals in the area could contain the elusive chemical
Dr. Scesa brought small live samples of coral from Florida to the lab in Utah, where the real hunt began
In the lab, the researchers sought to understand whether the coral’s genetic code contained instructions for making the compound.
This proved difficult, as the scientists did not know what the chemical’s manufacturing instructions should look like.
“It’s like going into the dark and looking for an answer where you don’t know the question,” said Professor Eric Schmidt, co-lead author of the study.
To solve this problem, the researchers searched for regions of coral DNA that looked like genetic instructions for similar compounds from other species.
They then programmed lab-grown bacteria to follow soft coral-specific coral DNA instructions, and found they were able to replicate the first steps in making the chemical.
According to the researchers, this proves that soft corals are the source of eleutherobin.
The team now hopes to complete the missing steps in the chemical’s recipe and try to replicate them in the lab.
“My hope is to hand them over to a doctor one day,” added Dr. Scesa.
“I think it goes from the bottom of the ocean to the bench at the bedside.”
Corals expel tiny seaweed when the sea temperature rises, causing them to bleach
Corals have a symbiotic relationship with tiny sea algae called “zooxanthellae” that live inside and feed them.
When sea surface temperatures rise, corals expel colored algae. The loss of the algae causes them to whiten and whiten.
This bleached state can last up to six weeks, and while corals can recover if the temperature drops and algae returns, severely bleached corals die and become covered in algae.
Either way, this makes it difficult to distinguish between healthy and dead corals from satellite images.
This bleaching has recently killed up to 80% of corals in some areas of the Great Barrier Reef.
Bleaching events of this nature are happening around the world four times more frequently than before.
An aerial view of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Corals in the Great Barrier Reef have suffered two successive bleaching episodes, in 2016 and earlier this year, prompting concern among experts about the reefs’ ability to survive global warming.
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