The marine environment: a challenging source of novel drugs against neurodegeneration
An “unlimited” and “underexploited” library of new drugs from the sea
Did you know that 63% of the drugs on the pharmaceutical market nowadays are related to terrestrial and marine natural products? Have you ever heard about the marine environment, its richness in terms of biodiversity, and its potential as a treasure trove for new drugs? If you want to learn more about these topics, check them out in this article.
The oceans cover more than 70% of our planet’s surface and host an estimated 1-2 million different species.
When most people think about ocean life, they tend to think solely about fish, but there is a lot more to marine life than just fish. Marine organisms, such as sponges, tunicates, fish, soft corals, molluscs, echinoderms, bryozoans, crustaceans, bivalves, and many other species live in symbiosis with marine microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, applying specialized strategies that allow them to survive in different habitats.
Some marine organisms can live in sub-zero waters in polar regions, whereas others live in hydrothermal vents where temperatures can reach up to 400°C. Some organisms live in shallow waters, where there is high exposure to sunlight, while others prosper in the deep sea, where there is no light and pressure is much higher. The huge biodiversity found in various marine habitats is echoed in the molecular diversity of unique chemical entities that can be extracted from marine animals, plants and microbes (which are poorly studied compared to their terrestrial relatives), known as Marine Natural Products.
In the early 1900s, the idea of investigating marine ecosystems as the potentially largest source for new chemicals began to be explored systematically. Since then, more than 36,000 new molecules with a wide range of pharmaceutically relevant bioactivities (including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties) have been discovered from the marine environment. A list of marine derived drugs, along with their therapeutic uses and their chemical class, is displayed in the Table.
Unfortunately, sampling of marine organisms, is often more difficult compared to sampling terrestrial organisms, and this consequently makes the exploration and collection of marine samples (e.g., deep-sea organisms that are more susceptible to pressure and light changes) cumbersome and expensive.
Nevertheless, progress in marine technologies, such as easily accessible scuba diving equipment, as well as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), facilitates the investigation of the marine environment.
Inspired by its extraordinarily promising capital, we strongly believe that the Marine Environment has the potential to be key in finding useful treatments for Neurodegenerative Diseases.
About the Author
ESR7: Paolo Giaccio
Paolo is hosted at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the aim of his research is the isolation of natural products from marine bacteria and/or fungi from the East Mediterranean basin that act as mimetics of neurotrophins using a bioassay-guided isolation protocol.