Declaring a molecule found in Svalbard “can cure breast cancer” is a big, big headline, but – as with many scientific “breakthroughs” – comes with a big “what if.”
With that qualifier in mind, optimism a medicine will indeed be developed some day is being expressed by researchers at the Norwegian School of Fisheries (part of UiT Norway’s Arctic University) using a small molecule discovered in animals on the seabed off the coast of Bjørnøya in 2011.
“We realized early on that it could be a huge finding,” Kine Østnes Hansen, an associate researcher at the university, told NRK this week. But it’s only nine years later they’re revealing “this drug selectively killed cancer cells.”
Their findings to date were published in the December issue of the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
The molecule is part of a so-called hydroid – a collection of single cells joined together in a plant-like form and stuck on the seabed. Tests of its impact on multiple cell lines revealed many that were unaffected, but breast cancer cells showed the greatest impact.
The largest impact was the samples against a special type of breast cancer cells including triple-negative breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type for women, with NRK reporting more than 3,500 Norwegian women were affected by it in 2018. About 15 percent of cases were the most aggressive form, known as triple-negative breast cancer, which is extremely difficult to treat because it does not respond to hormonal therapy or other medicines effective on other types of breast cancer.
The molecule discovered near Bjørnøya controls triple-negative breast cancer cell division, Hansen told NRK.
“If it can be developed into a medicine, it will be a completely new treatment alternative for a group of cancer patients who now have limited treatment options,” she said.