Sea sponge potential source of new medicines

February 28, 2012

The sea sponge has provided Flinders University researchers with inspiration for the discovery and development of new therapeutic agents in the treatment of infectious diseases and cancers.

As part of a new PhD project at Flinders, researcher Matthew Norris (pictured) is attempting to synthetically produce unusual and complex chemicals found in sea sponges so they can ultimately be tested as potential drugs for diseases such as cancer and .

Biological studies have shown that these naturally occurring, carbon-based molecules have the potential to kill malaria bugs and even stop from spreading but because the compounds are so rare and unique no one has been able to fully investigate their therapeutic values.

Mr. Norris said his job during the next four years was to build the molecules by synthetically reproducing their complex , allowing scientists to continue the path of .

“These particular molecules are present in nature in only minute quantities so they are very rare and that means they are not available for anyone to use in therapeutic testing,” Mr. Norris, from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, said.

“Preliminary tests have shown that they can kill tumour cells but we don’t know how effective this is,” he said.

“More research is needed and that can’t take place unless we have sufficient quantities of the compounds and that’s what I’m trying to do – make compounds of interest available by building them.”

As a first step in his research, Mr Norris has considered the complex way sea sponges can produce these particular chemicals – by making a “carbon string” which flips, folds and twists before eventually turning into a molecule of biological significance.

He has already been successful in replicating these processes using a technique called cascade reactions but now the next challenge is to keep building and joining the molecules “like Lego blocks”.

Mr. Norris said his research was a highly valuable pursuit for the discovery and development of new drugs, especially antibiotics.

“We don’t know exactly how useful these are because they are rare and chemically unique but this uniqueness makes them very appealing as drug candidates because they could have a profound effect in the body or in parasites,” he said.

“There are some very effective drugs being used already but a growing number of diseases are becoming resistant to them, particularly antibiotics, and that’s why we need to keep upping the ante when it comes to drug discovery.”

Mr. Norris is one of two Flinders students to receive the 2012 Joyner Scholarships in Law, Medicine and Science – a three-year prize encouraging original or progressive postgraduate research that leads to advancements in any aspect of law, medicine or science.

Explore further: Prehistoric bird found in fossil treasure

Related Stories

Prehistoric bird found in fossil treasure

August 15, 2011

A Flinders University-led expedition involving the WA Museum has found the fossilised remains of a prehistoric bird, possibly a wedge-tailed eagle, in a cave on the Nullarbor Plain. The bird is more than 780,000 years old.

Fresh input to theory on Legionnaires' disease

September 19, 2011

Contrary to some scientific beliefs, Flinders University PhD candidate Michael Taylor has literally grown his own evidence to suggest the bacterium which causes the potentially-fatal Legionnaires’ disease is more than ...

Recommended for you

Room-temperature lithium metal battery closer to reality

February 4, 2016

Rechargeable lithium metal batteries have been known for four decades to offer energy storage capabilities far superior to today's workhorse lithium-ion technology that powers our smartphones and laptops. But these batteries ...

Uncovering secrets of elastin's flexibility during assembly

February 5, 2016

Elastin is a crucial building block in our bodies - its flexibility allows skin to stretch and twist, blood vessels to expand and relax with every heartbeat, and lungs to swell and contract with each breath. But exactly how ...

Researchers seek efficient means of splitting water

February 5, 2016

Photovoltaics promise to help meet our energy needs by turning sunlight into electricity. We can't run everything that way, but with a little tweaking, photovoltaic materials can use solar energy to split water into hydrogen ...

Antibiotic's killer strategy revealed

February 4, 2016

Using a special profiling technique, scientists at Princeton have determined the mechanism of action of a potent antibiotic, known as tropodithietic acid (TDA), leading them to uncover its hidden ability as a potential anticancer ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.