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Extract of deep-sea brittle star can turn off deadliest type of cancer

A group of researchers from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) has discovered an activity against the triple-negative phenotype of breast cancer in the extract of the deep-sea brittle star. The extract turns off the Wnt-signaling pathway in cancer cells, which causes their uncontrolled growth, while the substance does not have cytotoxicity, that is not dangerous.
Extract of deep-sea brittle star can turn off deadliest type of cancer

The marine animal was caught at a depth of about 3,000 meters during the expedition to the Kuril Depression of the Sea of Okhotsk in 2015. The results of the research have been published in the international journal Scientific Reports.

Vsevolod Cherepanov, the research associate at the Laboratory of Pharmacology of Natural Compounds, FEFU School of Biomedicine, explained that the screening of extracts had been done on the cell line of the triple-negative phenotype of breast cancer. It is one of the deadliest types of cancer that kills 200,000 people every year, because there are no major pharmaceutical targets for treatment in its cells.

Different groups of researchers studied this type of cancer and found the cause of uncontrolled cell division. Mutations were found precisely in the components of the Wnt-signaling pathway — the biochemical pathway of information transfer into the cell.

It turns out that exactly the components of the Wnt signal cascade are potential targets for this type of cancer therapy. We have launched screening of 80 extracts of deep-sea invertebrate animals caught during the expedition. Fifteen extracts showed activity, but the strongest effect — almost a hundred percent shutdown of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway inside cancer cells — showed the alcohol extract of the brittle star (Ophiura irrorata). This is a relative of a starfish, living at a depth of 3,000 meters, — Vsevolod Cherepanov explained. — The studied extract is not cytotoxic, that is, it has no negative impact on the functioning of the cell.

The FEFU researchers have yet to find out what makes this brittle star special. At the next stage, the researchers plan to define the so-called “magic bullet”—a small molecule, an active substance in the ophiuros—in order to synthesize it in the laboratory. It will be very difficult to cultivate a brittle star, researchers say, as it needs a pressure as deep as 3,000 meters to grow, and shallow-water relatives of ophiuros are already known to be toxic.

Artem Blagodatsky, FEFU School of Biomedicine, Alexander Koval, the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Vladimir Kharlamenko, FEB RAS National Research Center of Marine Biology, also participate in the research. The project is managed by Yuri Khotimchenko, the FEFU Vice President for Medical Affairs, Director of the School of Biomedicine, and Vladimir Katanayev, the Head of the Laboratory of Pharmacology of Natural Compounds. The works are carried out in FEFU under the grant of the Russian Science Foundation.