Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Drug from Pacific sponge
shows promise against
cancer, UH finds

By Lori Tighe


A drug squeezed from an ocean sponge from the Marshall Islands has been discovered by University of Hawaii researchers as a new, possibly better weapon against cancer.

Laulimalide, named after the Hawaiian word laulima, "to work together," works similar to the natural drug Taxol in killing cancer cells -- but appears to be tougher.

"It's a better killer against a drug-resistant cell line. Some cells are not responsive to anti-cancer agents," said Dr. Susan Mooberry of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. "We're very excited."

Laulimalide was tested in the lab against breast and ovarian cancer, but may treat other cancers, she said.

The drug can move to animal trials now, Mooberry said. But it won't be ready for human use for another five to 10 years -- "assuming everything went well."

The agent was discovered 10 years ago by California and UH researchers, who gave it its Hawaiian name.

Mooberry and Professor Bradley Davidson, formerly of the university and now a graduate student at Utah State University, began cultivating and testing the agent three years ago.

Their discovery, reported yesterday in the journal "Cancer Research," was the result of a collaborative research project involving the search for new anti-cancer agents from natural marine products.

Laulimalide's chemical structure is unrelated to Taxol's, discovered in the Pacific yew tree. Both compounds share a unique feature that disrupts the function of the cellular microtubules required for normal cell division.

Taxol, "a very good drug," has successfully treated breast and ovarian cancers, said Mooberry.

Laulimalide comes from the marine sponge Cacospongia mycofijiensis, but sponges are difficult to grow and harvest, Mooberry said. So the drug will be reproduced in the lab. Davidson is now making more laulimalide for further trials.

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