Can sea sponges hold the key to fighting cancer?
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The simple marine creatures are being called one of science's best bets for finding new medical compounds and biochemical products, and there's a whole industry based on the idea, known as the blue-tech industry.

Scientists have already found compounds in sea sponges that could potentially hold the key to fighting HIV and breast cancer, as well as some of the ocean's most powerful toxins.

Sam McCormack, a Masters student from the University of Waikato, is now investigating the relatively unknown sponges in New Zealand's Bay of Plenty to search for future disease-fighting drugs. 

He will be examining the taxonomy, chemistry and ecology of the sea sponges to look for simple ways to identify new species and easily assess their potential when it comes to pharmaceutical compounds.

In a press release, McCormack explains: "Marine species face constant attack from bacteria and viruses in the marine environment, and sea sponges in particular have evolved to produce chemicals that ensure their survival. In fact, of all marine species, sponges have developed the highest number of toxic chemicals to protect themselves from predators.”

It's these chemicals and their potential to also fight human diseases that scientists are now eagerly looking into. His dream would be to find an anti-cancer compound through his research.

“For the welfare of people, this study is really beneficial. You could dive into five metres of water, pick up a sponge, bring it in for analysis and possibly find a new drug," says McCormack.

The development from discovery to drug is a lengthy process - a compound discovered in 1986 in a deep-water sea sponge was just released as a breast cancer drug in 2010 - but new chemicals with huge potential are being discovered all the time.

We can't wait to see what these sea sponges reveal next.

Are you interested in exploring our oceans? Find out more about studying Biological Sciences at the University of Waikato.