News Feature | March 4, 2014

Researchers Studying Palau Coral Reefs For Cancer Drugs

Request Information

By Marcus Johnson

David Newman, leader of the Natural Products branch at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, is interested in finding cancer drugs in unusual locations. He has a history of researching molecules for potential drugs from places such as Madagascar and the Indo-Pacific. Researchers at the NCI believe that it is faster and easier to find potential cancer-fighting molecules in nature than it is to develop them in a pharmaceutical lab.

Newman is currently working with marine scientist Pat Colin with the Coral Reef Research Foundation. Colin has worked for decades to find marine samples from corals, sea squirts, and marine worms. His team believes that they might be able to find new compounds in nature that could be the key to a strong cancer drug.

David Newman has taken specimens found on Colin’s trip to Palau and plans to test them on cancer cells. One of the specimens is a large sponge, which has been broken down into a fine powder for study. Newman said that the sponge powder will be exposed to over 50 different tumor cell lines, and if there is any positive reaction, the National Cancer Institute will attempt to license the compound with a private pharmaceutical company for further research. Newman believes that the organisms showing the most promise are colorful mollusks called nudibranchs.

While Newman’s team is currently focused on natural compounds that can fight against cancer, he eventually wants to expand his search to include treatments for other diseases.