Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution Receives $1.1 Million Grant From National Cancer Institute

December 05, 1997

FT. PIERCE, Fla.--Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution received word today that they are the recipient of a three-year, $1.1 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for studies investigating the potential anticancer properties of the marine-derived compound, Discodermolide. Ross E. Longley, Ph.D., Immunology, Oncology and Screening Group Leader for Harbor Branch's Division of Biomedical Marine Research (DBMR) is the principal investigator and primary author of the grant. Sarath P. Gunasekera, Ph.D., Chemistry Group Leader, DBMR and David C. Myles, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of California at Los Angeles are co-investigators on the grant. United States Senator Connie Mack (R-Florida), a long standing supporter of NIH/NCI funded biomedical research and a cancer survivor himself, will tour the Harbor Branch facilities today with Drs. Longley and Gunasekera to learn more about how the grant will help further Harbor Branch's biomedical research efforts. The grant has a start date of December 9, 1997.

Discodermolide is a promising anti-cancer compound derived from the marine sponge, Discodermia dissoluta, and was discovered and characterized by Longley and Gunasekera at Harbor Branch in 1990. Subsequent studies by the Harbor Branch team and collaborators revealed the compound to be a potent anti-tumor agent with a mechanism of action similar to that of the clinical anti-cancer agent Taxol. Both Taxol and discodermolide interact with microtubules, structures which compose the framework or "cytoskeleton" of normal and cancer cells. These compounds bind to, and "freeze", the otherwise flexible cytoskeleton, which results in killing of the tumor cell. Discodermolide, however, appears to be up to 80 times more potent than Taxol in killing human tumor cells and is also effective in killing tumor cells which have developed "resistance" against Taxol treatment.

Discodermolide has not, as yet, best tested in human beings for the treatment of cancer; those studies not being anticipated for at least another five years. However, the objectives of the Harbor Branch grant will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of discodermolide on experimental models of human lung, breast and ovarian cancers and to isolate and evaluate both natural and synthetic, chemically related compounds (analogs) of discodermolide which may prove more effective than discodermolide itself in fighting cancer. The results of the three-year study will provide important pre-clinical data on the pharmacology and anti-cancer potential of discodermolide and related analogs in the treatment of human cancer.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Inc. is one of the nation's premier not-for-profit oceanographic research and education facilities, dedicated to the exploration of the world's oceans, estuaries and coastal regions for the benefit of all humankind.
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Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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