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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK


Starfish aid cancer fight

Starfish could help scientists develop new treatments

A starfish found in the English Channel could help in the fight against cancer, scientists have said.

The Marthasterias glacialis is a spiny starfish. Its eggs contain large quantities of an enzyme that doctors hope could be used to develop a whole range of cancer treatments.

The enzyme has already been used slow the uncontrolled cell division that creates cancerous tumours.

While the enzyme occurs in all animals, the unusually high quantities in the starfish's eggs make it extremely valuable to researchers.

When the enzyme is active, cells can divide, and when it is inactive they cannot. But, in some cancers, a genetic fault means it is always on.

The researchers are looking at which molecules they can use to switch it off again.

If they master this, they could develop treatments free of the horrendous side effects experienced in chemotherapy.

Plenty of enzyme to study

Professor Herbie Newell is a Cancer Research Campaign scientist based at the University of Newcastle.

He said: "There is a particularly plentiful supply of one of the enzymes we are looking at in the eggs of this starfish. From a small number of starfish eggs, you get a large amount of the enzyme.

"We're using it as a tool for developing drugs. We have already discovered a small molecule which looks drug-friendly and is a potent inhibitor of this enzyme in the test tube.

"Now we have to increase its potency and make it more specific."

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "This research is extremely exciting, not just because it opens yet another avenue of cancer research, but because it illustrates how much can potentially be achieved when researchers collaborate and share their knowledge and resources."

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