Algae May Be Key to Treating Two Aggressive Cancers


Algae A new discovery offers hope for two of the most aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers – brain tumors and triple negative breast cancer.

Research finds a compound produced by a certain type of blue-green algae has properties that may fight malignancy through a mechanism of action unlike any other drug. The natural chemical works by stopping the communication between cancer cells and other cells and blood vessels, thereby starving the cancer and leading to its shrinkage.

The chemical diversity found in nature has always been a significant source of inspiration for drug design and development, but although the medicinal properties of plants have been recognized for thousands of years, marine environments remain relatively unexplored,” said Jane Ishmael, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at Oregon State University and the lead author of the new study. “We think that with this compound, nature has already found a way to target some of the specific proteins that are relevant to the growth of tumors.”

Algae Compound Has Potent Cancer-Fighting Properties

Eight years ago, scuba-diving scientist Kerry McPhail, Ph.D., of Oregon State University collected a mash-up of at least three algae species from a dive in Panama’s Coiba National Park. The plantlike organisms were growing on rocks in areas with rapidly moving water. Aside from Panama, similar algae communities have been seen in the Red Sea and off the coast of South Africa.

McPhail isolated a compound called coibamide A from the original specimen and evaluated it using a National Cancer Institute Screening System that detects anticancer activity for 60 different varieties of the disease. It showed the chemical had anticancer properties not present in any other known compound, indicating it attacks cancer in a unique way.

While the screening showed coibamide A could kill many different types of cancer, Ishmael focused on two malignancies with a grim diagnosis: brain tumors and triple negative breast cancer cells. In an animal model where human brain cancer cells were grown in a mouse’s flank, coibamide A treatment significantly decreased the size of the tumor. Next, the team will test the compound in a mouse model for triple negative breast cancer, as well as in a mouse model where the brain cancer cells are grown in the brain rather than the flank. Ishmael presented the findings at the Experimental Biology 2016 meeting in April.

Blood Brain Barrier Poses a Challenge to Brain Tumor Treatment

Brain tumors are challenging to treat because they grow very fast and are not responsive to most chemotherapy medications. Doctors typically recommend surgery followed by radiation, but the malignancy often recurs because it is difficult to eradicate all the cancer cells.

The problem that makes most drugs ineffective for brain tumors is that they aren’t able to cross the blood brain barrier, a stringent filtering system that prevents the passage of certain substances. It isn’t yet known if coibamide A can pass through this barrier, but even if it can’t, Ishmael said researchers could still develop drugs that duplicate its structure and mimic its effects.

Scientific collaborators at Japan’s Kyoto University have devised a means of producing coibamide A synthetically. This advancement should expedite the research because it eliminates the need of harvesting algae from marine environments.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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