Sea sponges are fascinating organisms. Although they are technically animals, they have no nervous, digestive, or circulatory systems, instead relying on a constant flow of water through their bodies to remove waste while absorbing food and oxygen. They can be found in a range of underwater habitats, from the polar regions all the way to the tropics, usually attaching themselves to rocks or other firm surfaces along the ocean floor.
Although these unusual organisms play an important role in the underwater habitats they live in, researchers have been increasingly interested in the value they might have for humans, as sources of novel bioactive compounds with the potential to be used for valuable medicinal applications. With regards to the novel chemicals harvested from ocean life, sponges have been one of the most prolific sources of newly discovered bioactive compounds, with more than 7,000 novel molecules on record derived from sea sponges.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field of clinical research, read on to find out why researchers have taken such an interest in sea sponges, and the role these organisms could play in the development of future medicines.
Eribulin Shows One Possible Application of Sea Sponge-Derived Compounds
One of the promising medical applications of sea sponge-derived compounds can be seen in the work of a group of researchers at the University of Leeds, led by Prof. Chris Twelves. These researchers have been investigating a drug called eribulin, derived from a sea sponge called Halichondria okadai.
These researchers analyzed two major phase 3 clinical trials consisting of over 1,800 female participants with metastasized breast cancer, comparing the results of women who had been given the sea sponge-derived drug to those who received standard treatments.
According to these studies, eribulin, a new type of drug known as a microtubule inhibitor, improved the survival rates of women with advanced TNBC by almost 5 months. While not a cure, this treatment could provide valuable life-extending treatment to those living with advanced cancer, and is sure to be of interest to those in clinical research courses.
Why Professionals with Clinical Research Training Are Interested
Eribulin is only one example of the possible applications of sea-sponge derived compounds for treating disease and infection in humans. Research has been ongoing since the early 1950’s, when nucleosides derived from the marine sponge Cryptotethya crypta provided the basis of ara-C, the first marine-derived anticancer agent, now used in the treatment of lung, pancreatic, breast, and bladder cancer.
Compounds derived from sponges and other marine microorganisms have shown a wide array of properties, including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antimalarial, immunosuppressive, muscle relaxant, and anti-inflammatory qualities. Although there are few approved drugs making use of these compounds, hundreds of new compounds are discovered every year, and many are currently undergoing clinical trials by professionals with clinical research training to determine their potential for medical use.
Research Into Sea-Sponge Derived Compounds Is not Without its Challenges
Although these compounds show potential for pharmaceutical applications, there are still challenges in the development process. One of the major obstacles to studying them is that there is often not a sufficient supply of biological material for testing. While these compounds could be produced through controlled synthesis, this is often only an option after the compound has been tested enough to prove its potential and justify investments in developing an appropriate synthesis process. Until then, researchers rely on samples procured from nature, which can be limited.
Despite this challenge, however, research continues, with scientists developing new ways to cultivate and synthesize the novel compounds found in sea sponges, and explore their potential for a variety of pharmaceutical applications.
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