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The Job (Transcript)

I have made hundreds of dives with the Johnson Sea Link submersible to depths of 1/2 mile. Probably the most exciting thing that happened was when we dove the sub inside an undersea volcano and didn’t know it was a volcano until we were inside. We were about 600 feet deep under a ledge and down a hole and all of a sudden we realized we were inside a volcano and this thing shot us up about 200 feet a minute – that was kind of exciting!

The chemicals that we are discovering from organisms, deep sea animals and plants or even shallow water plants and animals, are found throughout the world. We find them in the Tropics and in the Arctic - from shallow water to depths of tens of thousands of feet and it is very similar to the drugs that have been developed that we have found in the plants and animals of the Amazon. That is where we think we have found most of our drugs, from terrestrial resources, microbes that live in dirt and from plants that live in the Amazon basin. It is only recently, perhaps the last 10 years or so that we have really started to look to the deep sea for equivalent drug discovery.

Our primary objective in the biomedical research division at Harbor Branch is to discover and develop drugs from marine organisms that can be used to treat human diseases. That is our hope and primary object - to find a new drug that can treat human diseases such as cancer or any number of diseases. Right now we have one drug that is a chemical that we discovered form a deep sea sponge nearly 15 years ago. It has taken this long to develop but this summer it has just started clinical trials for the treatment of human breast cancer. Right now it is showing very good potential for killing the breast cancer and other cancers such as colon cancer. We are very hopeful that it will make it to market. It has been a very long journey from when we first discovered it scuba diving in 1988 and then finally found the compound and discovered what it was and what it was good for. It’s sort of odd that a deep sea sponge such as this produces a chemical that humans can use to treat diseases. But they are just full of chemical and different compounds that the sponge probably uses for defense mechanisms such as toxins so it won’t be eaten; some toxic compound that prevents it from being eaten by a fish. We don’t even know why these sponges produce all these chemicals. They are there for us – it’s nature’s pharmacy for us to discover.


Related Links

John Reed Profile


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