Cures from the sea

oral controls viral growth, may help treat cancer

Published: Monday 15 May 2006

The wonders of the marine world don't cease to amaze. The latest is a yellow coral, Isis hippuris, collected off the coast of Okinawa island of Japan. The coral has yielded a compound that can slow down and possibly prevent virus replication and also treat cancer.

Biochemist Jerry Pelletier of McGill University in Canada and his colleagues isolated a natural steroid, called hippuristanol, after grinding the coral and treating it with methanol. The scientists then tested the steroid on poliovirus and found it slowed down viral replication. The study appeared in Nature Chemical Biology (Vol 2, No 4, April, 2006).

Antibiotics and other modern medicines do not work on viruses because these organisms infiltrate cells and hijack their processes. Such a hijacker virus uses cellular machinery to control the process of building proteins and thereby replicates itself. Hippuristanol stops this process by inhibiting the function of a protein -- e if 4 a -- that acts as a molecular motor, which the virus relies on to make proteins.

Because this process appears to spiral out of control in some forms of cancer, hippuristanol might also prove to be a potent chemotherapy, according to the researchers.

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