Scientists at Queensland’s Griffith University tested more than 200 sea sponges and identified a compound that caused changes in cells extracted from Parkinson’s disease patients.
It is the start of a program using the new method to test more than 200,000 natural compounds.
Researcher Professor Ronald Quinn says the results are promising, but there are more than 200,000 samples left to test.
“We’ve developed a technique using spectroscopy to look for something that’s novel, so that part of it gives us a compound that has not been found previously by anyone else, so it’s unique,” he said.
“Then what we’ve done we’ve looked at that compound on cells that we’ve obtained from patients who have Parkinson’s disease.
“When we looked at those 220 using this MMR fingerprinting, that allowed us to see which of those 220 had an unique component and that really allowed us to hone, and isolate and identify this compound that’s new.”
He says the technique could be used to treat a variety of conditions, but is a way off yet.
[In this study] if we get one [compound] out of 200 – and we have 200,000 – that’s quite a lot of potential that we can find that may help in trying to understand Parkinson’s disease in this particular program,” Professor Quinn said.
“It’s a tool or a probe to try to understand the biology behind the disease – what may cause Parkinson’s disease.
“Hopefully with this sort of technique, we can use tools similar to this to reverse the phenotype and bring the Parkinson’s disease patient back to normal.
“This is very early – this is a molecule that allows us to understand the system.
“Any therapeutic use or drug use is well down the track.”
Needle in a haystack research
Professor Quinn says the marine sponges are complex organisms that contain a lot of compounds.
“We’re trying to find within that haystack if you like – the needle – the single compound that’s quite unique and different and can be useful to be developed towards understanding the disease, and then later on to try to treat the disease,” he said.
Professor Quinn says marine sponges have very little protection in nature and their way of surviving predators is the chemicals it uses to achieve that.
“Because it’s producing chemicals for protection and other functions, then those compounds may be useful in a therapeutic sense on a human target,” he said.
“It is a chemical factory producing lots of compounds to respond to its environment and some of them might be useful to develop into a therapeutic.
“In this case, one of those compounds shows a very unique action on cells from people with Parkinson’s disease.”
He says the program has a strong focus on Parkinson’s disease because of its research base.
“It’s mainly fuelled by the fact that we have isolated cells and we’re able to culture them up and we have a terminology what we call ‘neurobank’,” he said.
“We have quite a number of patients that have donated some tissue and we’ve grown up the cells, so we have this array of cells so we can investigate the disease.
“We can then compare them against people who don’t have the disease and try and see what’s the difference.
Professor Quinn says doctors currently treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but scientists still do not understand what causes it.
“What we’re hoping here by using this compound and others that we find, hoping that it gives us some ideas of how the disease occurs and then we can treat the cause of the disease rather than treat the symptoms of the disease,” he said.