ORLANDA, Fla., June 28 (UPI) -- A drug to treat malaria, one of the world's deadliest diseases, could come from sponges, sea worms and other undersea creatures, a scientist says.
Debopam Chakrabarti of the University of Central Florida has analyzed samples of more than 2,500 marine organisms collected near Florida's coast in hopes of finding a key to treating malaria, the mosquito-borne illness that kills more than 1 million people worldwide annually, a university release said Monday.
UCF researchers conducted tests to evaluate growth inhibitory properties of these samples for malaria parasites.
Early tests indicate about 300 of the organisms sampled can kill the parasites, Chakrabarti said.
"There is a very good possibility that the answers to cancers, malaria and other diseases may be found in the ocean," he said. "The oceans cover 70 percent of the planet. Among 36 of the phyla of life, 34 are found in marine environment, whereas the land represents only 17 phyla, and we haven't even begun to explore the oceans' depths."
Research on drugs from marine sources is taking place around the world, UCF said.
A Japanese study found a drug derived from sea sponges was effective against breast, colon and urinary cancers, and Australian scientists are diving on the Great Barrier Reef to study organisms there.
Chakrabarti says researchers will continue analyzing samples during the next year.
"If we can find two or three good molecules that can be easily synthesized in a lab and that can prevent malaria, I'd be very happy," he said.