EU launches $12 million project to scour the deep seas for bioactive compounds

Led by researchers at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Leuven, 24 PharmSea project partners from 14 countries will collect and screen mud and sediment samples from deep oceanic trenches to discover bioactive compounds that could treat disease or be used for nutritional and cosmetic applications

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University of Leuven (KU Leuven) scientist CamilaEsguerra and the Laboratory for Molecular Biodiscovery, headed by Prof. Dr.Peter de Witte, are coordinating a roughly $12 million, EU-funded project tocollect and study marine microbes extracted from some of the deepest and leastexplored parts of the ocean where, it is hoped, many as-yet-unexplored biomesmay yield potential bioactive compounds that could treat disease or be used fornutritional and cosmetic applications.
In addition to coordinating the project, Esguerraand her colleagues will screen 18,000 crude extracts and pure compounds for thenovel molecules they hope in particular could lead to new therapeutics againstepilepsy and other central nervous system disorders.
Dubbed PharmSea, this large-scale, four-year projectbegan in October 2012 and brings together 24 partners from 13 countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Denmark. The workwill involve the collection of mud and sediment samples from extreme oceanictrenches as much as 9 kilometers deep, the creation of small-molecule extractlibraries from marine bacteria isolated from these samples and biologicalscreening of these extracts to identify chemical compounds with drug-likeproperties.
Molecules will be developed further as drug leadsin three indication areas: inflammation, infectious diseases and centralnervous system disorders.
"At the moment, over 30-percent of patients with epilepsydo not respond to currently available anti-epileptic drugs," notes Esguerra. "Therefore,their seizures remain uncontrolled, leading to high mortality or cognitive andlocomotor impairments. Over the last several years, our laboratory hasestablished a number of different zebrafish seizure models. With the help ofthese models, we are quite hopeful the we will find a number of exciting newdrug leads."
Another aim of PharmaSea is to discover new marine bacteria that canproduce novel antibiotics.
"There's a real lack of good antibiotics indevelopment at the moment. There hasn't been a completely new antibioticregistered since 2003. If nothing's done to combat this problem we'regoing to be back to a 'pre-antibiotic-era' in around 10 or 20years, where bugs and infections that are currently quite simple totreat could be fatal," says Marcel Jaspars, who is professor of chemistry and director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre at the University of Aberdeen.

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