The remarkable ability of a small Australian sea snail to produce a colorful purple compound; to protect its eggs is proving even more remarkable for its potential in a new anti-cancer pharmaceutical. Researchers at Flinders University; Southern Cross University and Monash University in Australia have isolated one compound in the gland secretions from the Australian white rock sea snail (Dicathasis orbita) which has not only antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities; but important anti-cancer properties.

After a decade of work, they have found an active compound derived from the substance produced by the mollusc’s gland; used as a preventative in bowel cancer. They are very excited about these latest results and hope to attract investment from a pharma company; to work on a new drug to reduce development of colorectal cancer tumors.” Professor Catherine Abbott from Flinders University, senior lead scientist. Indole derivatives are a structurally diverse group of compounds found in food; toxins, medicines, and produced by commensal microbiota.

Tumors in a colon cancer model

However, using the latest mass spectrometry technology, the research team: able to pinpoint the lead active compound which, in future, put to good work. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of the 9.6 million cancer deaths every year; with the World Health Organization reporting 862,000 deaths in 2018.

However, natural compounds from marine and terrestrial plants; and animals are valuable sources of current and future medicines for human health, says Southern Cross University marine scientist Professor Kirsten Benkendorff; who is also researching the potential of replicating the snail species’ anti-inflammatory compound.

“But in this latest research they have not only show that a specific snail compound can prevent the formation of tumors in a colon cancer model; but they were also able to use sophisticated technology; to trace the metabolism of the compound inside the body,” says Professor Benkendorff. “his is very important for drug development; because it helps demonstrate the absence of potentially toxic side-effects“.

Anti-tumor effect

But along with tracking the active compound inside the body to confirm it reaches; the colon where is has the anti-tumor effect; which is important for oral drug delivery the snail compound comes from a class of compounds called “indoles” which are commonly found in both natural plant medicines and some pharmaceuticals.

“But they were able to use the fact that snail compound contains bromine; like a unique fingerprint to trace how these types of compound metabolized inside the body and identify some potentially toxic metabolites from the crude extracts; that were not found with the pure snail compound,” Professor Benkendorff adds.