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MMS: Offshore Platforms May Hold A Key to Fighting Cancer

A joint report by the Interior Department Minerals Management Service (MMS) and University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has identified three marine organisms collected from oil and gas platforms in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that contain compounds that have been shown to block the growth of cancer cells.

Under a research agreement sponsored by MMS, UCSB researchers studied marine organisms collected from oil and gas platforms in California's Santa Barbara Channel and found that two invertebrate species contain compounds that inhibit the division of cancer cells grown in the laboratory. Moreover, a compound isolated from algae collected from oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico has been shown to block cell division and enhance the activity of the cancer drug Taxol, according to the MMS report.

"This research is an exciting advancement in our understanding of how marine life may hold a key to unlocking treatments to improve our health," said Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett. "Like the rain forest, our oceans may contain untold biological components that may one day help us in the fight against some of society's most challenging diseases."

The report is the result of a multi-year research initiative of the MMS and UCSB that examined pharmaceutical applications of marine organisms growing on offshore oil and gas structures.

The compounds produced by the algae may have similar properties that would make it a candidate for use as a cancer chemotherapeutic, according to the report. UCSB researchers said that while these results are highly promising, years of additional research are needed to isolate and purify the compounds and to assess their application for the treatment of cancer or other diseases. Regardless of the final outcome of the research, they noted that the discovery validates their approach of continuing to identify potentially useful organisms that have established a habitat on offshore platforms.

The final report, titled "Advancing Marine Biotechnology: Use of OCS Platforms as Sustainable Sources of Marine Natural Products," follows worldwide studies of the potential use of pharmaceutically important products contained in various marine species, the MMS said. Interest in marine natural products for use in medical applications continues to grow worldwide.

The MMS said the research findings will be submitted for publication in peer review journals. The study, which began in 2001, cost approximately $1 million and was co-funded equally by the MMS and UCSB. The final report is available at

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