The seabed around the South Shetland Islands, off the coast of Antarctica, hides a treasure: a wide variety of molecules with high therapeutic potential for new drugs, such as the aplicyanines, which have proven cytotoxic and antitumor activity. This discovery was made by Dr Conxita Àvila of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio).
Along with a team of 18 scientists, Dr Àvila has been exploring the waters of the Antarctic Ocean since 1998 to find invertebrate marine molecules, discover their ecological function and assess their possible pharmacological uses. In fact, one of Dr Ávila's main lines of research is marine chemical ecology (natural products from benthic invertebrates in temperate, tropical and polar areas).
So far, this group of experts from the UB and IRBio have discovered bioactive molecules like hodgsonal, terpenoid acylglycerols, glassponsine, granuloside, illudalanes, triterpene glycosides, and some new meridianines, among others, and have also discovered antibacterial and antimalarial activity in molecules not yet named.
Searching for new indications with the SaaS
To extract new therapeutic indications for the molecules, the team is using computational technology on the Mind the Byte SaaS platform. "We're identifying the ones with the greatest potential based on their structure and activity," explains Irene Espelta, project manager at Mind the Byte. Moreover, when it is very expensive or time consuming to obtain molecules directly from the sea floor, the SaaS platform allows researchers to see other existing or new molecules with similar or practically identical characteristics.
"Expectations are high and working with Mind the Byte gives us a much more precise understanding of the relationship between the molecules and their potential activity, as the material is often very valuable and we must optimise research," says Dr Conxita Ávila.
The group's research is currently known by the name Distantcom and is the continuation of the Ecoquim and Actiquim projects, all funded by the Ministry of the Economy and Knowledge through 2017.