UCF team looks under the sea to fight against tuberculosis

UCF researchers examine sea creatures in hopes of finding cure

ORLANDO, Fla. – When you hear "Under the Sea" it's likely that scene from "The Little Mermaid" will come to mind.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida are examining some of the creatures hiding in the depths of our ocean to help in the fight against tuberculosis, one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide.

"As a disease, it really is a lot bigger problem than most people in the United States realize, because it kills about one-and-a-half million people every year. Just, most of them are not in this country so we're sort of oblivious to the problem. Tuberculosis is actually the number one killer due to an infectious disease," said UCF assistant professor Kyle Rohde.

Rohde said the sponge samples came from a partnership with research professor Amy Wright of the Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

"We collect those kinds of organisms, because they can't move and they can't go anywhere, they make these little molecules that we call natural products," said Dr. Wright in a Skype interview with News 6, "they help them do things like not be eaten by fish, or maybe if they're in one place and they need to filter the water to get food, they don't want to have things on top of them, so they may make chemicals that help things not grow over the top of them."

Rohde's team said they took those chemical extracts from the sponges to see if they could kill the dormant tuberculosis bacteria. The team identified 26 compounds that were active against replicating tuberculosis bacteria, 19 killed dormant bacteria including seven that were active against both.

"Whether or not these hits that we have right now are the next wonder drug, we don't know yet. And so we have other projects, including this one, that we continue to find new potential drugs," Rohde said.

Findings of the study published in June in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, which is published by the American Society of Microbiology. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

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