Some of these natural compounds showed the potential to kill cancer cells, bacteria and the HIV virus, according to research at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In fact, two of them exhibit anti-bacterial activity towards antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus at concentrations worth pursuing, though researchers don't know yet whether the concentrations of the compounds required to kill the bacterium would be harmful to humans.
The compound that was isolated in the greatest abundance -- named bromophycolide A by the researchers -- killed human tumor cells by inducing programmed cell death (called apoptosis), a mechanism that is promising for development of new anti-cancer drugs, researchers noted. The findings on three of these compounds called diterpene-benzoate natural products -- are reported in the Oct. 12 online issue of the American Chemical Society journal Organic Letters. Information on the other compounds will be published later. The research, which is part of an environmental conservation, economic development and drug discovery project in Fiji, was primarily funded by the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health. Georgia Tech Professor of Biology Mark Hay leads the project, which also aims to benefit the Fijian government and villages, which own their local natural resources and will benefit monetarily if these natural resources become marketable drugs.
"We're only at the test-tube level so far," explained Julia Kubanek, a Georgia Tech assistant professor of biology, chemistry and biochemistry, who is the lead author on the paper. "The next step is to discover how these compounds work and then to study them in a more complex model system."