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Potentialk Cancer-Fighting Organism Found In Bahamian Waters
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Posted by:Jun 27th 2007, 02:35:15 pm
Fig Tree News Team
27th June

Potential Cancer Fighting Organism In Bahamian Waters
By Candia Dames

US researchers say they have sequenced the genome of an organism found in Bahamian waters which they believe has the potential to treat certain types of cancers.

Bradley Moore (left) and Daniel Udwary are involved in the research intended to create new cancer medicines from organisms that live in Bahamian waters.

In other words, they now understand how the genes of this organism are controlled.

The organism – a bacterium that lives in the sediment in The Bahamas – was actually discovered in early 1991 and is related to a number of bacteria that live in terrestrial soil.

"Many of these bacteria that live in terrestrial soil are very important bacteria from a human health perspective in that they produce many of the known antibiotics that we all take when we are sick," explained Bradley Moore, a professor with Scripps’ Centre for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine and the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The organism is known as Salinispora tropica and its product, "salinosporamide A" is currently in the first phase of human clinical trials in the United States.

The organism’s chemistry wasn’t quite appreciated until early 2000 when the anticancer agent was characterized and shown to have really potent anticancer properties, according to Mr. Moore.

The molecule was discovered and developed by William Fenical.

Mr. Moore and Daniel Udwary joined colleagues at Scripps and the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute in successfully sequencing Salinispora tropica.

Mr. Moore told the Bahama Journal that researchers believe the product can be used to treat multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow, as well as for treating solid tumors.

"This is the first time that we’ve had a glimpse into the entire genome of this really potent organism," he said.

"What that tells us is a number of things. It tells us that this organism actually has the potential to make not just this one cancer agent, but actually 16 other types of natural products, so there’s tremendous chemistry we can see in the genome of this organism."

According to a press release from the researchers involved in the work, sequencing the genome revealed previously unknown aspects of Salinispora tropica.

For example, while observations in similar bacteria revealed that typically six to eight percent of the organism’s genome is dedicated to producing molecules for antibiotics and anticancer agents, Salinispora tropica’s genome showed an impressive 10 percent.

"If we know the genetic roadmap of their potential, we can read the sequence and the DNA to predict what chemicals are being made," Mr. Moore said. "This is a way to mine the genomes for new chemical structures and new biology, with potential in a human health context."

But don’t expect any medicines developed from the organism’s compound to be available in the immediate future.

Phase one clinical trials are underway for one year. If all goes well it would take several more years of clinical trials as it goes to the next two phases, Mr. Moore explained.

"So far, nothing negative has appeared in the phase one trial," he said.

The bacterium being used in genetic engineering experiments has so far proven to be unique to the Bahamas, according to Mr. Moore.

"Relatives of it have indeed been found across the Pacific and also the Red Sea, but not this exact organism…We don’t see the salinosporamide ability in other bacteria," he told the Journal.

"So one of the cool things you [discover] when you sequence a genome is all of the DNA involved in making that one natural product…so we can now manipulate that pathway and take the genes. You can put them into another organism and turn another organism into a higher producer of that compound."

According to the researchers involved in the work, much of the anticipation of producing new medicines from Salinispora comes from its potential to augment the current arsenal of antibiotics, many of which are ineffective against increasingly drug-resistant bacteria.

More than half of the natural antibiotics now used clinically are derived from the Streptomyces genus, the land-based relatives of Salinispora that are considered the kings of antibiotic-producing organisms, scientists say.

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