September 2, 2009

Sea bacteria may lead to new therapies

U.S. marine biomedicine scientists say they have discovered a promising ocean-based compound that might yield new ways to fight human disease.

Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego and Creighton University in Omaha say they have deciphered the highly unusual molecular structure of the naturally produced compound that is giving new understanding of the function of mammalian nerve cells.

Scripps scientists collected cyanobacteria - tiny photosynthetic sea organisms -- in Hoia Bay off Papua, New Guinea, in 2002 and recently discovered the bacteria produce a compound with a structure previously unseen in biomedicine.

The researchers said the compound, which they've named hoiamide A, offers a novel template for drug development.

We have seen some of hoiamide A's features in other molecules, but separately, said Alban Pereira, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher. We believe this new template may be important because it's showing different mechanisms of action -- different ways to interact with neurons, possibly with a good therapeutic effect for such diseases as epilepsy, hypoxia-ischemia and several neurodegenerative disorders.

The study, that also included Zhengyu Cao of Creighton University and was led by Scripps Professor William Gerwick and Creighton Professor Thomas Murray, was reported in the Aug. 27 online version of the journal Chemistry & Biology.