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Shirley Pomponi Profile (Transcript)

I’m Shirley Pomponi and I am vice president and director of research at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, which is a non profit research institution in Fort Pierce, Florida; which is on the southeast coast of Florida.

My job is actually very diverse. I’m involved in institutional management. I direct the areas of research that are going on at Harvard Branch. We have a very broad research program. I do get to go out in the field, so I will go out on our ships about six weeks out of every year. This is probably my favorite part of my job.

For the past eighteen years, I’ve been involved in a marine natural products drug discovery program. We are looking for marine plants and animals that produce chemicals that can be developed into drugs to treat human diseases. I feel this is a way that I can combine my educational experience in biological oceanography and marine biology, with an interest in medicine and pharmacology.

The process by which we look for drugs is we go out and use our ships and submersibles. We go down to about 3000 feet or if it is shallower than that we can even use scuba diving. We collect samples. Our samples are primarily invertebrates, like sponges and seafans. We take them back to the lab and grind them up and make what we call an extract. We test that extract which has many common chemicals in it. For example, to see if it will kill cancer cells. If it will, our chemists figure out which single chemical in that extract is responsible for that activity. We have actually discovered many chemicals that have potential for the treatment of cancer, inflammatory diseases, or infectious diseases. We’ve patented these discoveries and we have been fortunate enough to license one of our discoveries to a pharmaceutical company. It is in development right now to treat cancer; so it’s on it’s way to the clinic. We’re really excited about that.


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Shirley Pomponi Profile


Please note that all OceanAGE Career content was current at the time that interviews were recorded; however, profiles are not being updated to reflect subsequent career changes.