Thursday, July 3, 2008 | A team of San Diego scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that the cure for cancer may be linked to a marine compound found within long strands of rosy-colored toxic bacteria that grow beneath mangroves in the South Pacific.
In a breakthrough discovery, researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography identified a potent and stealthy compound in the bacteria, called “mermaid’s hair,” that can kill tumors and be delivered without harming healthy tissue — thereby avoiding a major drawback to traditional cancer therapies such as radiation treatments and chemotherapy drugs.
The findings were published early this year in an online industry journal and Dwayne Stupack, a pathology professor and one of the authors of the report, is presenting the research to international experts in France and Italy this week.
The compound, known as somocystinamide A or ScA, has the proven ability to target and destroy rogue cancer cells and stunt the growth of tumors by inhibiting the formation of the blood vessels that feed them. Just three milligrams of the compound — the size of a grain of rice — is strong enough to blast a swimming pool full of cancer cells.
“It’s very early still, but there is definitely reason to be optimistic,” said Bill Gerwick, a biochemist and researcher on the project.
Gerwick’s been looking to the sea for new cures for nearly 20 years, at least. He spent the early 1990s scuba diving throughout the South Pacific in search of marine compounds that could give rise to new therapies.