How Marine Algae Discovered to be a Remedy Against Skin Cancer?
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Callithamnion pikeanum, red marine algae, growing on underwater rocky reef below kelp forest at San Clemente Island.

How Marine Algae Discovered to be a Remedy Against Skin Cancer?

Cancer may be a dreadful human disease, increasing with changing lifestyle, nutrition, and heating. Cancer treatments do not have potent medicine as the drugs are causing side effects sometimes. During this context, the natural products derived from medicinal plants have gained significance within the treatment of cancer. According to the WHO, 80% of the world’s population primarily those of developing countries rely on plant-derived medicines for health care.


They have isolated many types of bioactive compounds from plant sources. Several of them are in clinical trials or preclinical trials or undergoing further investigation. Although marine compounds are under-represented in the current pharmacopeia, they expect that the marine environment will become an invaluable source of novel compounds, as it represents 95% of the biosphere.


Having discovered that diseases can be healed through, marine organisms are no utopia. About 12 life-saving drugs have been developed from marine organisms and they have used their symbiotic microbiota and against cancer. Their drug development is hampered by the lengthy and costly discovery process.


The researchers from Marine Natural Product Chemistry Research Unit at GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, coupled with computer-aided automated approaches, have now successfully discovered marine molecules as remedies against infections and skin cancer in an alga and its fungal symbiont originating from the Kiel Fjord.
Natural products from the sea have four times higher potential to be of medicinal value rather than any other natural or synthetic compound. This process is lengthy, risky, and also costly.
The search process for marine active ingredients starts with the extraction of marine macro- and microorganisms, followed by the purification and characterization of their novel and bioactive chemical constituents, which are intended to be used for the development of new therapeutics.
Dr. Deniz Tasdemir, head of Research Unit Marine Natural Product Chemistry at GEOMAR and GEOMAR Center for Marine Biotechnology explains, “One of the biggest pitfalls in drug research is the isolation of already described natural molecules, using the ‘classical’ Bioactivity-guided isolation process. This approach is complicated and often prone to failures.”
They addressed this problem through automated, computer-based approaches in combination with bioactivity screenings. In a one-year study, they found that the brown alga Fucus Vesiculosus (bladderwrack) from the Kiel Fjord, inhibits the pathogenic bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which causes hospital infections.
The researchers enabled through Algorithm-based bioinformatics strategies and machine learning tools and also map the massive metabolome of the brown alga, simultaneously predicting the molecular clusters responsible for their antibiotic activity.

The algorithms applied in this study group together with the molecular families in complex networks based on their chemical similarity scores in mass spectrometry analyzes, and together within silico machine learning tools, help us to chemically identify the known and new compounds already in the extract. After the first rapid chemical fractionation step of the extract, a bioinformatics program is used to predict the bioactivity score of molecules according to their relative abundance in the fractions. They isolate these bioactive compounds.


“The classical discovery approach from extraction to the characterization of bioactive ingredients of the alga would normally take 3-4 years. These automated tools helped us to speed up the targeted discovery of the latest natural antibiotics right down to some months,”, explains Prof. Tasdemir.
In doing so, the research team found that brown alga bladderwrack inhibits the pathogenic bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), widely known to cause infections. During a tandem article published within an equivalent journal, the research team describes how 120 different symbiotic fungi associated with bladderwrack can also have anti-cancer properties. One, especially, Pyrenochaetopsis sp., efficiently kills melanoma-type carcinoma cells with low cytotoxicity and features in a very rich chemical inventory. This finding could open doors for the event of the latest therapeutics fighting not only MRSA but also carcinoma.


According to Prof. Tasdemir, this is often only the second chemical study on the previously unexplored fungal genus Pyrenochaetopsis. “Fungi, which we isolated from bladderwrack and fermented in optimized laboratory conditions, are a longtime source of natural anti-cancer agents. We have found several novel natural products here, which we named as Pyrenosetins A and B, that have a high potential for fighting skin cancer,” the chemist further explains.


“Nature is the source of quite half of all modern medicines that we use today. Access to the revolutionary genomics, metabolomes, bioinformatics, and machine learning tools will enable, unprecedentedly, the new and rapid discovery of marine compounds, and more rational and efficient use for subsequent drug development with industrial partners,”, Professor Tasdemir concludes.


Seaweed dietary fibers perform a varied range of functions such as antioxidant, antimutagenic, anticoagulant, and antitumor. The seaweeds also play an important role in the modification of lipid metabolism in the human body. High intake of calcium, potassium, and sodium are associated with lower mean systolic pressure and lower risk of hypertension.
Although the utilization of seaweeds in medicine isn’t as widespread as once it had been, the use of seaweed polymer extract in pharmacy, medicine, and biochemistry is well established. Clinical trials are also ongoing to form diabetic patients free from injection by introducing insulin-secreting “jelly capsule” made from seaweed-derived alginic acid. The capsule renders protection to white blood cells and therefore the patient’s system. Seaweed gums like carrageenan (extracted from red seaweed) or algin (from brown seaweed) are rich sources of soluble fibers.

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Marine Algae
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