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Breaking the barrier: Discovery of anti-resistance factors and novel ocean drugs

Investigations into coral disease, red tides and other marine environmental issues have led to discoveries of new chemicals as a source for pharmaceuticals. These chemicals function as antibiotics for microorganism providing survival advantages and may be usable in human health care.

Research by scientists from NOAA's National Ocean Service, The Medical University of South Carolina and North Carolina State University has found several compounds which exhibit very strong antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral potential as well as some anti-cancer and angiogenesis activities. The research into coral disease has resulted in thousands of new bacterial isolates producing highly selective antimicrobial compounds yielding highly selective small peptide antibiotics.

VIDEO: This is NOAA Scientist Peter Moeller's Natural Products Laboratory at the NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research with some explanation of equipment.

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Many of these novel antibiotics are advantageous, as they demonstrate no cytotoxic responses to human cells and may minimize negative side effects associated with those drugs in current usage. The researchers have yet to find a "known" resistant bacteria that cannot be made re-susceptible to current generation antibiotics, offering extended use of current drugs. We believe that one could apply many of these chemical mechanisms or novel pharmaceuticals to human disease resulting in a number of alternatives to deal with growing antibiotic resistance.

Observations from the sponge Agelas conifera's ability to protect itself against fouling and disease have led to the discovery of ageliferin derivatives that demonstrate very strong anti-biofilm activity. Compounds with this specific activity hold promise to increase the efficacy of current and out of use antibiotics because of their ability to inhibit and/or disperse the protective layer that infectious agents often produce to protect themselves. Such compounds are also finding potential use in other areas of human health as well, including cystic fibrosis, chemo-therapy, anti-fungal agents, and for use in medical stints and prosthetics.

VIDEO: This is a 6-minute interview, series of sound bites with NOAA scientist Peter Moeller about his natural products research into marine pharmaceuticals in corals and sponges.

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Marine natural products hold much promise in combating both the trend of antibiotic resistance but also to discover new antibiotics. The one-two punch of discovering new antibiotics as well as novel chemicals that make older generation drugs more effective represents cutting edge science addressing a critical need in human health care.


Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA Headquarters

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