Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Lymphoma


Volunteer Service Supports Fresh Ideas

Healing Properties Of A Common Sea Snail




Volunteer Service Supports Fresh Idea
First Published: Investigator - February 2008
Updated:


Thanks to the hard-working Volunteer Service for Flinders Medical Centre Inc. two bright young minds now have the means to pursue PhDs in groundbreaking fields.


Lauren Thurgood, one of two new Volunteer Service scholarship holders dedicates her time to researching the causes of kidney stones. Her doctorate is on how proteins help to control kidney stones, a field in which Flinders is leading internationally.


As an honours student Ms Thurgood was part of the research team led by Professor Rosemary Ryall who received a $1.2 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health in 2004. They were the first to discover and publish the existence of proteins inside the minerals, predominately calcium oxalate, which cause kidney stones when they attach to kidney cells.


Ms Thurgood hopes to build on this research by identifying the proteins within the crystals, and look at what effects single proteins have on the attachment of the crystals to the kidney cells.


She hopes her research will one day have clinical implications for preventing the formation of kidney stones.


Likewise, scholarship recipient Vicki Edwards is building on the research of Biological Scientists Dr Kirsten Benkendorff and Dr Catherine Abbott, who sought to harness the anti-cancer potential of a local species of sea snail.


It has been found the bioactive compounds involved in the Dicathais orbita or Australian Dogwhelk’s production of a purple dye have many possible medicinal uses, including a novel anti-cancer agent.


Under the supervision of Dr Fiona Young in Medical Biotechnology, Ms Edwards’ doctorate builds on “promising” research by Dr Benkendorff and Dr Abbott into the effects of the compounds on lymphoma and colorectal cancer cells.


Ms Edwards hopes to determine whether the compounds can also kill reproductive cancer cells, or whether they can have an effect on gynaecological conditions caused by hormonal imbalances such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.


She also hopes to investigate the viability of a homeopathic treatment for uterine cancer, Murex Purpurea, which has an active ingredient sourced from the same family of mollusc as the Australian Dogwhelk.


At present the Volunteer Service for FMC Inc. provides $194,000 annually to support medical research grants and have recently increased their support to provide for these two new PhD scholarships.


Healing Properties Of a Common Sea Snail
First Published: Investigator - April 2006
Updated:


Flinders investigators are currently involved in harnessing the natural anti-cancer property created by a common sea snail which could be used to treat many different forms of cancer.


Dr Kirsten Benkendorff and Dr Catherine Abbott, Lecturers in Biological Sciences at Flinders University, have been investigating this marine snail, the Australian Dogwhelk Dicathais orbita, which is found throughout shallow rocky reef habitats along the southern coast from New South Wales to Western Australia.


This snail produces a purple dye, known as Tyrian purple, which appears to be a means of protecting its egg masses. It has been found that the compounds that produce this dye have many possible medicinal uses, one of these being a potent anti-cancer agent.


This agent appears to cause programmed cell death within cancerous cells, triggering these unwanted cells to self-destruct by shrinking and fragmenting slowly rather than a sudden disintegration that can be harmful to healthy neighbouring cells.


Currently the project is delving into the biological mechanisms that take place within this snail to create the purple dye. It is hoped that part of the process, the anti-cancer agent, can be harnessed and possibly used as a treatment for cancer.


As this project is only in the very early stages much research needs to be undertaken to make sure that biological material such as DNA, metabolic processes, enzymes and the membrane of healthy cells are not harmed or destroyed by using a treatment that utilises this agent.


The next step in this project will be to look at the gastro-protective elements of the snail and to ascertain whether it could be used as a functional food with healing properties, perhaps for colorectal cancers.


Dr Benkendorff is also interested in further investigating homeopathic remedies used for hundreds of years to treat female health issues by testing the healing properties of this snail on reproductive cell lines such as ovarian and breast cancers, and hormone production.


“This is a huge project with exciting potential, particularly as this snail has several interesting biological compounds that haven’t been seen before; this study could provide some very useful information in the treatment of cancers,” says Dr Benkendorff.

 
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