Deep-water sponges: a cure for cancer?

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Probably not your ASDA Smart Price ones, no, but research has suggested that deep-water sponges contain anti-cancer properties and a chemical that reduces tumour formation.

Cancer takes the blame for over a quarter of deaths annually in the UK, with a cancer diagnosis every two minutes. In the UK, there are 27 new cases of pancreatic cancer every day, making it the eleventh most common cancer. In general, one in five adults diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive their cancer for a year or more, reflecting the need for new and improved methods of treatment.

A deep-water sponge, belonging to the genus Leiodermatium, produces an anti-cancer chemical that goes by the name Leiodermatolide. Causes of cancer are mostly unknown but involve some sort of damage to the cell cycle, which is where cells divide and reproduce to stay healthy and allow bodily functions to run without a hitch.

Cancer takes the blame for over a quarter of deaths annually

But malfunctions in the cell cycle can mean cells divide without restraint, forming tumours. Tumours can migrate around the body or remain where they are, either way causing problems. In these sponges, isolated Leiodermatolide has been found to stop the division of cells during tumour growth by interfering with the process. Researchers in Florida found that cancer cell death was induced by Leiodermatolide in mice with metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Not only that, but Leiodermatolide also shows selectivity towards cancer cells, so won’t impact any healthy cells along the way, which can happen in other treatments including chemotherapy. Significant tumour reduction was seen in the mice, showing a promising future for the treatment in further trials and eventually humans.

Deep-water sponges have anti-cancer properties

But these are not the only sponges to show anti-cancer properties – a synthetic analogue of a compound from marine sponges has been licensed in America to treat recurrent metastatic breast cancer. The compound Eribulin is a synthetic analogue of halichondrin B, which is naturally produced in marine sponges, and works similarly to Leiodermatolide to stop cancer cell division and tumour formation.

Phase II trials are underway for its use in pancreatic cancer as well as breast cancer. The discovery of chemicals that can reduce tumour growth opens the door for targeted cancer therapies that may be less debilitating than currently available treatments.

Where Leiodermatolide is concerned, further elucidation of its mechanism of action in cells is needed before treatments can be developed and trialled but with its promising tumour reduction in mice and selectivity for cancer cells, it seems sponges might hold at least some answers to cancer treatment.

Image by Adam via Flickr and Creative Commons.

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