Green sponge found in Alaska waters could provide a treatment for pancreatic cancer

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The discovery of a green sponge in Alaska by a NOAA Fisheries scientist over a decade ago shows promise in identifying a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

    Scientists and biomedical researchers  conducted a  teleconference for the media Wednesday to answer questions about the discovery of the sponge and what has been learned so far through medical research.

    Douglas DeMaster is the science director at the agency's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  "The sponge is most abundant in Alaska where it is found in large patches at  depths  from 230 to 720 feet.  It's likely that the sponge has a  unique chemical composition because it has adapted to this cold, dark habitat."

    DeMaster said that according to their collaborators at the Medical  University of South Carolina and the Henry Ford Cancer Center in Detroit the sponge possesses a complex molecular structure that is the most promising they have seen at  effectively targeting and killed pancreatic cancer cells in a laboratory setting.  "This is big news because currently there are few  treatments for these types of cancers."

    Bob Stone, a coral and sponge biologist at the Auke Bay Lab, was the one who found the green sponge.  He said this particular sponge is only  found
    the Gulf of Alaska in an area they know as the Fairweather Grounds which is in the northern Gulf of Alaska to the Olympic coast of Washington State.  He says that accounts for a range of about a thousand miles.

    Fred Valeriote. a cancer researcher at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute talked about the next step.  He said larger quantities of the sponge will be needed and talked about the work of Mark Hamann, a biomedical cancer researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina.  "Mark Hamann and a colleague of his in Hawaii are actively involved in the synthesis of the molecule.  Obviously, if the activity pans out in the pre-clinical therapeutic domain then large quantities are going to be required to move towards clinical trial."

    The sponge was discovered in 2005 at the bottom of the ocean.


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