First Look: Mote Marine Laboratory presentation of “Cancer Therapies from Sharks”

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By: Carol Erickson

Cancer has a major impact on our society in the U.S. and across the world.   It is still among the leading causes of death worldwide.   As the overall cancer rate has declined and the trend shows that progress is being made, we still have much work that needs to be done.

But now , the next revolution in cancer research has arrived and it is right here in Sarasota at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.  The Mote Aquarium  boasts the only center for Shark Research that is recognized by the U.S. Congress. They have spent decades studying the remarkable ways in which sharks have a very low incidence of disease,  including cancer and their relatively rapid healing of wounds.  Dr. Carl Luer, manager of the Marine Biomedical Research Program at Mote and Dr. Cathy Walsh, manager of the Marine Immunology Program have been investigating why sharks have this natural resistance.   They have found that certain substances from the sharks immune systems have cancer fighting properties that are effective on certain human cells, yet does not destroy the good healthy cells.  A miracle in the making!

They have cautioned that we are still a ways off before these findings can be tested on humans,  but for the many people hungry for a possible cure for this ugly disease,  the Mote Research Team has given us the one word we want to hear…HOPE…and we are extremely grateful.




From Mote Marine Laboratory press release May 26, 2015

Mote Marine Laboratory scientists are thrilled to take part in the first-ever Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge — an initiative of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation that aims to advance marine science and Southwest Florida’s “Blue Economy.”

This incentive-grant competition — likened to the XPRIZE for its focus on problem-solving innovation — is offering up to $500,000 in grants to promote meaningful solutions for enhancing Blue Economy pillars like marine science, technology, biomedicine, sustainable aquaculture, healthy fisheries and much more. Up to five teams will receive grants of $25,000 each to prototype their solutions. Then each team will present its prototype to the foundation’s Board of Directors, who will choose one team to receive up to an additional $375,000 to develop its solution for market.

The Challenge offers an exciting opportunity to build upon Florida’s significant, existing relationship with the ocean. Ocean-related economic activity contributed $17.5 billion to Florida’s gross domestic product as of 2010, according to a report from Florida Ocean Alliance.

Mote — an independent nonprofit institution dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans — has a nearly $90-million statewide economic impact through its world-class marine science and technology development, public education and outreach.

“Mote is a leader in many of the research areas tied to our Blue Economy, but I think the Southwest Florida community doesn’t fully realize what a jewel they’ve helped create here — one of the world’s leading independent marine research institutions is right here in your backyard,” said Mote President and CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby.

Crosby said that the knowledge Mote gains from the sea is intended to have a major ripple effect. “As we make groundbreaking discoveries and develop new intellectual property, we actively seek venture groups that can build upon our results to help promote the long-term conservation sustainable use of the marine environment, while also improving the quality of life for our community and society in general.”

Mote scientists are leading or collaborating in several groundbreaking projects as part of the Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge. Below are highlights showing how Mote’s unique studies, and new partnerships emerging from them, could enable breakthroughs in human medicine and lay groundwork for science-based economic growth.

Cancer Therapies from Sharks

Click the screenshot to watch Mote’s video.

“Cancer Therapies from Sharks” — a partnership effort among Mote, University of Central Florida and commercial collaborators Sun BioPharma and Northern Capital Partners — aims to build upon Mote’s unique research with cancer-fighting substances from shark immune systems. The project seeks to bring Mote’s innovative basic research to new levels with the ultimate goal of finding and developing improved treatments for cancer patients.

“Sharks and their relatives have a low incidence of disease, and what’s particularly interesting is a low incidence of cancer,” said Dr. Carl Luer, manager of the Marine Biomedical Research Program at Mote. Luer and Dr. Cathy Walsh, manager of the Marine Immunology Program, have been investigating why sharks have this natural resistance. They’ve found that certain substances from shark immune systems have cancer-fighting properties that are effective on certain human cells.

“In the past 10-12 years, we’ve tested about 15 different human tumor cell lines, and our compounds from the shark-derived culture medium will inhibit the cancer cells in the laboratory,” Luer said. “We’ve spent a lot of time understanding the mechanism by which these compounds will kill cancer cells, and we understand that quite well. The nice thing is that it attacks cancer cells preferentially to normal cells. That’s an excellent mechanism to have when we’re looking at new compounds for therapeutic applications to cancer.”

Mote and UCF scientists hope to isolate active agent(s) from Mote’s shark-derived, cancer-fighting substance, and work with Sun BioPharma and Northern Capital experts in pharmaceutical development and finance to move the research results toward drug development, with support from the Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge and leveraged private investment. The project aims to advance a Florida-based biotech enterprise to develop and commercialize marine science and technology.

Dr. Otto Phanstiel, project scientist and Professor of Medicine at UCF, said: “Mote’s experience working with natural product sources like sharks, our skill sets isolating chemical compounds from gross mixtures, coupled with Sun BioPharma’s experience bringing drugs to market is really a dynamic team that will work, and will be successful.”

Antibiotics from the Sea

Click the screenshot to watch Mote’s video.

In “Antibiotics from the Sea,” Mote and commercial collaborator Omeza, LLC aim to advance research and investment into finding and developing ocean-derived antibiotics that hold promise for battling dangerous infections in humans. The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research will match funds raised for this project through the Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge.

Mote researchers have extensively studied marine microbes (microscopic life forms) that benefit ocean organisms such as corals and fishes. They’ve already found that some marine microbes involved in ocean animal health have the potential to help us.

“Sharks, rays and skates don’t often get infected, and their wounds heal very quickly,” said Dr. Kim Ritchie, Manager of the Marine Microbiology Program at Mote. “We started a project looking at antimicrobial properties of bacteria on the surface cells of stingrays and skates, and we found that they have bacteria that may also act as an innate immune system, which could indicate why the animals have superior wound healing. We were interested in what microbes are present that produce antibiotics that can be useful for human infectious agents — particularly ones like MRSA and Enterococcus that are real problems in hospitals.”

MRSA (or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), strains of Enterococcus species and other infectious bacteria have developed resistance to existing antibiotic treatments.

Ritchie noted that stingrays and skates aren’t the only promising hosts for untapped, potentially beneficial microbes. “We are looking at similar bacteria from corals and other invertebrates,” Ritchie said. “Marine microbes, and the diverse types of marine hosts that they protect, hold much promise as sources of new antibiotics.”

Combining the strengths of Mote and Omeza could bring forth new therapeutic agents to counter serious human pathogens.

“I’ve known Mote a long time and I’ve been very impressed with the science, but it’s been kind of hidden in the laboratories,” said health-focused operating investor Thomas Gardner, Founder of Omeza, LLC. “You need fantastic science on one level and you need to have a business plan including management and capital underneath the science. I’m not worried about the science — Mote’s got that — but we need to put a business layer underneath that, and that’s what Omeza is doing.”

Mote is also partnering in the Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge projects “Advanced Solar-powered filtration technology for marine and freshwater” and “Healthy Earth-Gulf Coast: Sustainable Seafood System.” Learn more about all projects at

Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. Mote has 24 research programs and a variety of initiatives dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans with an emphasis on world-class research relevant to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing this research is Mote Aquarium, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year. Learn more at Contact Us:

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Fla., 34236. 941.388.4441

Copyright©2015 Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, All rights reserved.


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