Public Release:  Sanford-Burnham scientists identify natural compound that inhibits cancer cell migration

Molecule found in sea sponges may help control metastasis

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

LA JOLLA, Calif., February 18, 2010 -- Investigators at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham, formerly Burnham Institute for Medical Research) led by Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., have discovered that the natural compound sceptrin, which is found in marine sponges, reduces cancer cell motility (movement) and has very low toxicity. Metastasis is one of the deadliest aspects of cancer, so restricting aberrant cell movement is an important step towards advancing treatments. The research was published online in ACS Chemical Biology, in collaboration with Phil S. Baran, Ph.D., of The Scripps Research Institute.

The team tested sceptrin in multiple tumor cell types, including cervical, breast and lung cancers. Sceptrin restricted motility in all cell lines. Further tests showed the compound works by limiting the cells' ability to contract, a critical function for cell motility. The researchers also found that sceptrin synthesized in the laboratory was just as effective at combating motility as the naturally-derived compound.

"Given the recently achieved synthesis of sceptrin in multi-gram quantities by the Baran laboratory, sceptrin could prove to be an attractive lead molecule for further preclinical testing and development for therapeutic purposes," said Dr. Vuori. "It may also prove to be a useful research tool in order to elucidate the mechanisms involved in cell motility."

The researchers cultured growing cancer cells with growth factor to encourage motility. These cells were treated with varying amounts of sceptrin, which was found to be more effective at increased concentrations. Subsequently, the team conducted apoptosis and cell proliferation studies to determine whether these mechanisms accounted for the decrease in motility of sceptrin-treated cells. Other assays determined that sceptrin limits motility by reducing cell contractility.

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About Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (formerly Burnham Institute for Medical Research) is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham, with operations in California and Florida, is one of the fastest-growing research institutes in the country. The Institute ranks among the top independent research institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top organizations worldwide for its research impact. From 1999 - 2009, Sanford-Burnham ranked #1 worldwide among all types of organizations in the fields of biology and biochemistry for the impact of its research publications, defined by citations per publication, according to the Institute for Scientific Information. According to government statistics, Sanford-Burnham ranks #2 nationally among all organizations in capital efficiency of generating patents, defined by the number of patents issued per grant dollars awarded.

Sanford-Burnham utilizes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is especially known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham is a nonprofit public benefit corporation. For more information, please visit www.sanfordburnham.org.

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