Most of us are aware that nature often provides superior ways to maintain health and vitality in our lives. It not only sustains us otherwise, nature provides the foundation for the medicines that help fight disease and maintain the highest quality of life possible.
One of the most important discoveries in medicine was made in 1928. Penicillin was accidentally discovered when the mold named Penicilium notatum contaminated a culture of bacteria. Alexander Flemming – who failed to put the bacteria he was studying in an incubator overnight – noticed that the mold were killing the bacteria (Science History Institute).
This mishap by a trained mind has saved countless lives. Another good example is morphine (a natural painkiller), which is derived from the poppy plant.
Scientists are now looking toward the sea in search for new medicines which can help provide more effective and natural ways to fight cancer. Sea sponges hold much promise in this quest. Their natural sedentary lifestyle requires them to develop powerful chemical defenses to fight off invading microbes. These powerful substances are now being studied in the search for better alternatives to chemotherapy and/or radiation, which can have some serious side effects.
The standard cancer treatment today is chemotherapy and radiation. Although they do a good job at destroying the fast dividing cancer cells, many healthy cells are also destroyed. This form of treatment can’t differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells. This leads to side effects such as, hair loss, fatigue, easy bruising, bleeding, lack of appetite, nausea, etc. (American Cancer Society).
Some chemotherapy drugs called microtubule-targeting agents (MTAs) are effective in fighting cancer. However, a side effect of this treatment is “damage to nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord” (IFLScience).
Researchers have come up with a synthetic drug named DZ – 2384 has a configuration based on Diazonamide A, a chemical produced by Diazona angulata – a type of sea sponges. Studies have shown DZ – 2384 cleared the tumors from mice with pancreatic and colon cancer (MICROSCOPYANDANALYSIS).
It’s very important to note that this was accomplished without any signs of nerve damage – even when the dosage was higher than recommended.
There are sea sponges that don’t need to produce any chemicals for defense; they have evolved different ways to protect themselves. Scientists who look to sea sponges for natural medicines only target those that produce their own chemicals to combat predators and even other sponges or coral for space on the reef.
When the sponge is identified to have potential medicinal value, the medicine can take decades until it can be ready for human use. In order to make use of the chosen sea sponge to help the push for more natural ways to fight cancer, the chemical extracted first needs to be synthesized. In other words, a replica of the natural chemical is manufactured in a laboratory.
The remote places in which these sponges live make it problematic to access them. Furthermore, they don’t produce enough toxins to supply humanity with enough medicine.
Loosing Great Potential
Despite the great opportunity to save many human lives, sea sponges are under constant threat as a result of human activity. One hazard is Ocean Acidification – a result of the absorption by our oceans of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Another threat is the rise in surface ocean temperatures due to the warming up of the planet. So far, global warming has been responsible for the widespread death of many sponges in the Caribbean as well as the Mediterranean sea.
Another danger is trawling (the dragging of nets along the seafloor) for fish or shrimp. An unintended consequence is the dislodging of sponges that could have been there for 500 years. The fishermen simply throw the unwanted sponges back into the sea where they will die.
There is a high likelihood we are destroying what could be the cures we have been searching for. The unexplored potential of ocean sponges is great and needs to be seriously considered. While more than 5,000 species of sea sponges have been identified, it is thought that an additional 5,000 species have not yet been discovered (A-Z Animals).
In an area known as the Dead Zone in the Bahamas, scientist have located a yet to be named new species of sea sponge. Although parts were already harvested and studied some thirty-four years ago.
This gray, rock-like sponge holds great potential for curing pancreatic cancer. Initial tests also revealed a chemical that is 400 times stronger than the drug presently used to treat breast cancer, Taxol (abcnews).
The “deep-water Alaskan green sponge” had shown great promise in killing cancer cells – particularly aggressive types, such as pancreatic cancer (NOAA).
It’s apparent that sea sponges hold much more potential than most of us realize.
A Great Promise
The world’s oceans are largely unexplored. We have sent satellites to the farthest reaches of our solar system, but have yet to reach the deepest ocean trenches right here at home. Marine life is mainly unfamiliar for most of us; yet it holds many possibilities for some of our greatest needs.
Sea sponges are one of the most successful species in the world. They have survived for over 500 million years, and hold much promise due to the various powerful chemicals they produce. They do so in order to combat invading microbes and predators they can’t escape from, due to their sedentary lifestyle.
Scientist have been discovering the great potential these substances have to fight cancer. Furthermore, studies have shown the lack of side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation.
Due to the inaccessibility of the sponges remote locations, researchers have to synthesize the new drug.
Global warming poses the greatest threat to sea sponges and therefore their potential to help humanity. Trawling for fish has also hurt their populations, as many are unintentionally dragged off the seafloor and thrown back to ocean where they will die.
Our communities around the world must do more to protect these wonderful creatures. In addition to helping us find cures for some of our most serious illnesses, sea sponges are an integral member of coral reefs. This makes our dependence upon them critically important.
Let me know what you think of the great promise sea sponges hold for assisting humanity in finding cures for cancer and other illnesses. What do you think. How important do you think protecting sea sponges is? Leave your comments below.
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