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06 Sep 2019

A purple compound the Australian sea snail produces to protect its eggs, could also help scientists in the fight against cancer.

Researchers at Monash, Flinders, and Southern Cross universities have isolated one compound in the gland secretions from the Australian white rock sea snail (Dicathasis orbita) that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities.

More importantly in the context of the research, the compound is also appearing to hold important anti-cancer properties. 

Using the latest mass spectrometry technology, the research team has been able to pinpoint the lead active compound which, in future, could be put to good work.

“After a decade of work, we have found an active compound derived from the substance produced by the mollusc’s gland that could be used as a preventative in bowel cancer,” said senior lead scientist Professor Catherine Abbott from Flinders University.

“We’re very excited about these latest results and hope to attract investment from a pharma company to work on a new drug to reduce development of colorectal cancer tumours.”  

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of the 9.6 million cancer deaths every year, with the World Health Organisation reporting 862,000 deaths in 2018.  

Southern Cross University marine scientist Professor Kirsten Benkendorff said natural compounds from marine and terrestrial plants and animals are valuable sources of current and future medicines for human health.

“In this latest research we have not only shown that a specific snail compound can prevent the formation of tumours in a colon cancer model, but we were also able to use sophisticated technology to trace the metabolism of the compound inside the body,” Prof Benkendorff said.

“This is very important for drug development because it helps demonstrate the absence of potentially toxic side-effects”.

Along with tracking the active compound inside the body to confirm it reaches the colon where is has the anti-tumour effect – which is important for oral drug delivery – the snail compound comes from a class of compounds called indoles, which are commonly found in both natural plant medicines and some pharmaceuticals.

“We were able to use the fact that snail compound contains bromine like a unique fingerprint to trace how these types of compounds are metabolised inside the body and identify some potentially toxic metabolites from the crude extracts that were not found with the pure snail compound,” Prof Benkendorff said.

“This research is very important for understanding the safety of these types of natural compounds for human medicine.”

The research paper ‘Mapping insoluble indole metabolites in the gastrointestinal environment of a murine colorectal cancer model using desorption/ionisation on porous silicon imaging’ is published in Scientific Reports.



Published: 06 Sep 2019