Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic February 19, 2013 - 8:44 am

Researchers, pharma-firms to search Arctic seabed for new antibiotics

“We’re quite hopeful that we’ll find a number of exciting new drug leads"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
These kinds of undersea organisms deep in the Arctic waters could harbour antibiotics, researchers and pharmaceutical companies hope. (HANDOUT PHOTO)
These kinds of undersea organisms deep in the Arctic waters could harbour antibiotics, researchers and pharmaceutical companies hope. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

Why would companies that make medicines care about the Arctic?

Because hidden deep in the trenches of cold northern waters are strange new organisms that just might contain the next breakthrough antibiotic drug, which could help fight a variety of illnesses.

A team consisting of researchers, pharmaceutical industry experts and non-profit organizations from 14 different countries plan to collect mud and sediment samples from trenches off the coasts of Norway, South America and Antarctica.

The project is called the PharmaSea project.

“We’re quite hopeful that we’ll find a number of exciting new drug leads,” said project coordinator Dr. Camila Esguerra, in a recent news release issued by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Bacteria and other organisms that live in ocean trenches have adapted unique ways to survive great depths and extreme cold.

That makes them an interesting source for potential new drugs, said the news release.

And new drugs need to be constantly created as bacteria build up resistances to old ones.

The problem, according to the news release, is that antibiotics are overused and improperly prescribed. That overuse of antibiotics allows bacteria to build up resistances to the drugs even more quickly.

If new drugs aren’t found within 10 to 20 years the antibiotics we currently have could stop working, said project leader Marcel Jaspars, in the news release.

The result: “bugs and infections that are currently quite simple to treat could be fatal,” said Jaspars.

The international research team plans to scout for promising sources in the deepest point in the Arctic Ocean, Litke Deep, located off the northeast coast of Greenland. The depth there goes down some 5,450 meters below sea level.

The PharmaSea project is backed by the equivalent of $12.5 million Canadian dollars in European Union funding and is scheduled to take four years.

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