Researchers identify powerful cancer-fighting compound in coral reefs

⇧ [VIDÉO] You may also like this partner content (after advertising)

In the 1990s, scientists identified a chemical compound that is particularly promising for cancer treatments, eleutherobin. This compound is found on a rare type of coral off the coast of Australia. Laboratory studies have shown that this molecule is a potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth. Unfortunately, the researchers were not able to reveal the secret of its production. A team was finally able to determine the exact source of this compound and to reproduce its synthesis in the laboratory.

Eleuthyropin belongs to the family of diterpenes, molecules famous for their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which are the source of many important molecules, such as retinol and retinal (two types of vitamin A), or even phytol (a precursor of vitamins E and K). Diterpenes allow soft corals to survive without a hard outer skeleton; Corals in particular use eleutherobin to defend themselves against their predators.

Unfortunately, research and biomedical applications of this molecule have been hampered by a lack of supply. So researchers from the University of Utah Health set out to find the source of this compound at the bottom of the oceans. The team finally found this promising molecule in a common type of soft coral, which lives off the coast of Florida.

Initiation of synthesis by genetically modified microorganisms

Scientists initially thought that eleutherobin may have been synthesized by symbiotic organisms that live inside coral reefs – as is the case with many marine organisms. This hypothesis was eventually ruled out: in fact, some types of soft corals that lack symbiotic organisms contain the same class of chemicals. So they were already able to synthesize this compound themselves.

So the team examined several samples of live corals to check whether their genetic code contained the key to making erythropin. The task was particularly difficult: the researchers had no idea what the manufacturing code should look like! ” It’s like going in the dark and looking for an answer when you don’t know the question Eric Schmidt, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah and co-author of the study reporting the discovery, comments.

The researchers were eventually able to identify regions of the corals’ DNA that are similar to the genetic instructions seen in other species for similar types of compounds. In particular, they succeeded in identifying and characterizing genes involved in the production of erythropinic and cymbrin precursors – representative precursors of more than 2,500 terpenes present in the octahedron, the researchers note.

They then modified the genetic code of the lab-grown bacteria to include manufacturing instructions specific to soft corals. The result: the microorganisms were able to reproduce the first steps in erythropin production. This proves two things: Not only are soft corals the source of this molecule, but it can be synthesized in a lab.

Concretely, this means that this molecule can be produced on a large scale, in the context of developing an anti-cancer therapy. But before that, the team still needs to find the missing steps to complete the synthesis and figure out how best to mass-produce this potential drug.

A range of natural remedies

Soft corals actually contain thousands of compounds that can act as anti-inflammatory agents, antibiotics, anticancer agents, and more. But getting enough of these compounds is a major hurdle in drug development — as is often the case with pharmaceutical treatments based on natural substances.

It is known that many animals carry substances with healing properties. Species of snakes, spiders, and other animals have already made it possible to design many treatments based on the molecules extracted from their venom. For example, tirofiban, a drug used in the management of myocardial infarction, is a modified version of a molecule found in snake venom Echis carinatusa (One of the four most dangerous snakes in India). Likewise, the saliva of the “gila monster” – a poisonous North American saury fish – has led to the development of a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

poison Geographic Konos – A snail is especially dangerous, because its poison can kill a man within two hours – it gave rise to a very powerful painkiller, intended for patients in whom morphine no longer had any effect. Toxins are generally very good candidates for new drug development, because the toxins they contain are highly selective (acting on a very specific type of receptor). However, the use of these molecules requires that their toxic effects be neutralized beforehand.

Compounds from soft corals offer other advantages over these toxins. Unlike the toxic products that some animals inject into their prey, corals use eleutropin and other compounds to ward off predators trying to eat them. Since they are made to be eaten, these products are easy to digest. Likewise, drugs derived from these types of compounds should be able to be administered as tablets (taken with a glass of water), and not by injection or other invasive means, the researchers explained.

In any case, this study indicates that oethropins and other compounds naturally produced by corals can be more easily accessed by synthesizing them in the laboratory via genetically modified microorganisms. ” I hope one day I will be able to hand these products over to the doctor. I see it moving from the ocean floor to the workbench and bedside said Paul Sesa, Schmidt fellow and co-author of the study.

Source: P. Scesa et al., Nature Chemical Biology

Leave a Comment