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Marine toxin can target colon cancer

United Press International


U.S. researchers say they've modified a toxic chemical produced by marine microbes and successfully tested it against laboratory models of colon cancer.

Chemists at the University of Florida took a generally lethal byproduct of marine cyanobacteria, apratoxin, and made it more specifically toxic against cancer cells, a UF release said Wednesday.

Given in low doses to mice with a form of colon cancer, the compound inhibited tumor growth without the overall poisonous effect of the natural chemical, they said.

"Sometimes nature needs a helping human hand to further optimize these products of evolution to treat human diseases," Hendrik Luesch, a professor of medicinal chemistry at UF's College of Pharmacy, said. "Based on what we learned about apratoxins' mechanism of action, we knew this compound class had great potential for use in anticancer therapies; however, the natural product itself is too toxic to become a therapeutic."

The researchers synthesized several apratoxin compounds that were similar to the original except for slight differences in composition, creating one that proved to be extremely potent against the cancer cells in cultures and in mice.

"Marine cyanobacteria produce a huge diversity of compounds," Luesch said. "About half of anti-cancer drugs are based on natural products. "When we studied the biological effects of apratoxin, we predicted it would be particularly useful against colon cancer if we could engineer it to be more selective."

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