The researchers say that the compound found off the cost of Key Largo has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth in laboratory tests, giving hope that new drugs to better battle the disease may soon be available.
A presentation on the efficacy of the UF-patented compound largazole, derived from cyanobacteria that grow on coral reefs, was made at an international natural products scientific meeting in Athens, Greece.
Experts attending the meeting described largazole as one of the most promising they had found since the college's marine natural products laboratory was established three years ago.
"It's exciting because we've found a compound in nature that may one day surpass a currently marketed drug or could become the structural template for rationally designed drugs with improved selectivity," said Dr. Hendrik Luesch, an assistant professor in UF's department of medicinal chemistry, and the principal investigator on the study.
A research article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society reveals that largazole, discovered and named by Luesch for its Florida location and structural features, seeks out a family of enzymes called histone deacetylase (HDAC).
Background information in the article suggests that over-activity of certain HDACs is associated with several cancers like prostate and colon tumours, and inhibiting them can activate tumour-suppressor genes that have been silenced in these cancers.
Luesch says that a largazole-based drug might result in improved therapies and fewer side effects, given that this compound does not inhibit all HDACs equally.
His team has now joined forces with Jiyong Hong, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry at Duke University, to conduct further biological testing on the compound.
Luesch has revealed that, within the next few months, he plans to study whether largazole reduces or prevents tumour growth in mice.