Reporter's Notes: Medicine from the Ocean Floor
Scientists gather samples on the ocean floor.
Credit: Roger Linington.There's nothing new about looking to nature to cure disease – we've been doing it for thousands of years, with good results. (Two recent examples: The active ingredient in aspirin was first identified in the bark of the willow tree. And we have the Pacific yew tree to thank for one of the strongest anti-cancer drugs out there, Taxol.)
What's different about the work being done at the UC Santa Cruz Chemical Screening Center is that it a) looks to a largely unexplored medical resource: the ocean, and b) uses robots, rather than "forlorn-looking grad students" (to quote Center director Scott Lokey) to run the tests.
Here's a video I shot of one of those robots in action, with Lokey narrating.
One thing that didn't make it into the piece is that these researchers — including Lokey and Roger Linington — aren't just studying every disease they can think of. They focus on the diseases that commercial drug companies tend to neglect because there's so little profit in treating them – things like African sleeping sickness and cholera. So far, they're seeing progress on both, as well as breast cancer.