SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – It goes without saying that the depths of the ocean hold secrets humans may never unveil. However, scientists with University of Utah Health (U of U Health) recently discovered a deep-sea organism that has shown promise in previous studies for treating cancer. 

According to U of U Health, drug hunters have been tracking down the source of this natural chemical for 25 years but had no luck. Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry at U of U Health, Paul Scesa, Ph.D., postdoctoral scientist, and Zhenjian Lin, Ph.D., assistant research professor made up the team of researchers it took to finally get the job done.

Through their studies, the trio discovered that easy-to-find soft corals, or flexible corals that resemble underwater plants, make up the cancer-fighting compound. 

“This is the first time we have been able to do this with any drug lead on Earth,” Schmidt told U of U Health. 

The University says this finding opens the door to the ability to produce the compound in vast amounts needed to conduct testing, and could eventually result in a new tool to treat cancer. 

Schmidt explained how soft corals offer distinct advantages to drug development. They acquire thousands of drug-like components that could work as anti-inflammatory agents, antibiotics, and more. 

U of U Health states that another advantage of soft corals is that they use their chemicals to ward off predators that try to eat them, meaning their chemicals are easily digestible and should be able to be given as pills as they are made to be eaten. 

According to Schmidt, “These chemicals are harder to find (than those in injectables or other cancer treatment options) but they’re easier to make in the lab and easier to take as medicine.” 

The official study conducted by Schmidt and his team can be found in the May 23 issue of Nature Chemical Biology.