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Sea sponges produce molecules with cancer-killing capabilities: Study

Published: Updated:

Sea sponges produce molecules that can be used to kill cancer cells, new research has found.

The bioactive molecules produced by the sponges can kill tumors in a way that is arguably more effective than chemotherapy, according to researchers from Russia’s Far Eastern University.

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The scientists added that the sea sponge molecules also offer other functions that could help eliminate tumors in the body.

They tested the biological effect of the marine alkaloid 3,10-dibromofascaplysin, on various prostate cancer cells, including those resistant to standard docetaxel-based chemotherapy.

The compound was first isolated from the sea sponge and subsequently chemically synthesized.

The substance was found to force tumor cells to die via a programmed cell death mechanism. This process is called “apoptosis” and is considered the most favorable mode of action of anticancer drugs.

“The examined compound, while killing cancer cells, even one resistant to standard chemotherapy, simultaneously activates an enzyme (kinase) protecting these tumor cells,” Dr. Sergey Dyshlovoy, a researcher from the university’s School of Natural Sciences, said in a statement.

“However, it can’t be considered as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ effect. This is just a mechanism of action,” he added.

According to Dyshlovoy, the synthesized compound in addition to its own activity, works well in combination with several already approved anticancer drugs, enhancing their antitumor effect.

The scientists’ next step is to examine how 3,10-dibromofascaplysin affects non-cancer cells. They already ran a related project supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, aiming to report the outcomes during 2021.

“Fascaplysins are rather toxic to non-cancer cells. In our laboratory, we are trying to modify the structure of these compounds in order to reduce their cytotoxic effect on normal cells, while maintaining the necessary antitumor effect. The goal is to create a substance for targeted therapy, with a minimum of side effects for healthy cells of the body,” said Dr. Maxim Zhidkov, Head of Department of Organic Chemistry at the university’s School of Natural Sciences.

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