Could a Deadly Form of Algae Kill Cancer?

Agilent instruments have helped discover that a mysterious fish-killing algal toxin could be especially good at killing cancer cells.

A farm in North Carolina reported that its fish were mysteriously dying off.  When the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated, they found the presence of Euglena sanguinea, a type of algae that is normally harmless.

But when scientists studied the alga further, the results were surprising.  “We put it in culture, and sure enough, it was killing things,” recalls scientist Paul Zimba.

Using Agilent single-quad and triple-quad LC/MS systems, Zimba and his team discovered the presence of a new toxin – euglenophycin – that was previously unknown to science.

But there’s more.

Following standard practice, the researchers dosed tissue cultures with euglenophycin and watched for any signs of bioactivity.  They discovered that the toxin – an alkaloid similar to fire ant venom – exhibits anticancer activity.  When leukemia cell lines are exposed to euglenophycin, the result is a significant reduction in the number of viable cancer cells.

The researchers hypothesize that euglenophycin could serve as an effective treatment for certain cancers.

While promising, the discovery is still in its early stages.  Further work is required to assess euglenophycin’s potential as a new therapeutic anticancer treatment.


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