Taking to the Sea

In an attempt to find compounds that may help fight cancer and pain, European researchers are headed to the sea.

Researchers at the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Helsinki are searching the sea to find future solutions in treating cancer and pain.

The team is co-ordinating an extensive project which aims to find biological activity from among organisms in the sea that would be suitable for use as a basis for pharmaceutical products. The team seeks to chemically modify compounds isolated from organisms in the sea to achieve the task.

The four-year MAREX project involves researchers and corporate sector representatives from 13 countries. Though the journey to the shelves of chemists may take some time, the researchers expect the extensive and carefully planned project to present good opportunities in discovering interesting active compounds for the development of pharmaceuticals agents to fight the conditions.

The team collects micro- and macro-algae, sea anemones, tunicates, and fish from the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic Sea. Collecting the samples does not harm the ecosystems. While some research teams also have existing sample collections, the main focus of the project is on materials that have not previously been tested. The objective is to utilize organisms and populations, such as the blue-green algae and macro algae, that are usually considered as insignificant and harmful.

“Right from the start, we will consider whether an algae or other raw material from the sea may be utili[s]ed on an industrial scale,” said Päivi Tammela, researcher at the Faculty of Pharmacy, in a press release. “It is not enough that the material has potential to be a cancer pharmaceutical. Instead, it must be available or it must be possible to produce it in sufficiently large quantities.”

According to Paula Kiuru, researcher at the Faculty of Pharmacy, and Jari Yli-Kauhaluoma, professor, compounds obtained from sea organisms usually have a very complex chemical structure. The goal is to identify the most important structural parts of the most interesting compounds. With the information, it will be possible to considerably simplify the structure of a complex compound while retaining the original biological activity.

Other Finnish contributors to the project in addition to the University of Helsinki include Abo Akademi University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. In addition, the task of the researchers at the University of Helsinki is to study the antimicrobial characteristics of the samples and develop synthetic derivatives. The project kick-off seminar in Helsinki was attended by research and corporate sector representatives from various European countries, as well as from India, Lebanon and Turkey.

--

Are you interested in seeing what results from the exploration of marine life in terms of new pharmacotherapies?