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Compound discovered in Florida Keys shows early promise as colon cancer treatment

A chemical compound made from a type of bacteria discovered in the Florida Keys by a University of Florida pharmacy researcher has shown effectiveness in fighting colon cancer in preclinical experiments.

Writing online in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, scientists say the compound — known as largazole because it was first found near Key Largo — inhibits human cancer cell growth in cultures and rodent models by attacking a class of enzymes involved in the packaging and structure of DNA.

More study is needed, but scientists hope that the discovery will lead to new treatments for the roughly 50,000 people struck with colorectal cancer each year in the United States. Researchers are enthusiastic because in addition to having the marine bacteria as a natural source of the chemical, they have been able to synthetically produce the active chemical compound extracted from the bacteria.

“It is challenging to develop natural marine products into drug therapies due to what is termed the ‘the supply problem,’” said Hendrik Luesch, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry in the UF College of Pharmacy. “We have solved the supply problem for largazole because it has a relatively simple structure, which has made it easy to reproduce in the lab.”

The Luesch lab discovered largazole while investigating samples of bacteria from the Florida Keys, publishing the finding in 2008.

Known as cyanobacteria, the microbes have evolved to fend off predators or cope with harsh conditions in a marine environment, employing toxins to aid their own survival. The toxins are the compounds chemists such as Luesch wish to isolate and understand in a quest to create drugs that similarly fend off invading cancers in the body.

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