Medicines from the Sea

Coral and sponges.

Coral reef.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Ocean exploration often leads to new ideas, new theories and discoveries, including new medicines. From slime to sponges, researchers are exploring the ocean's depths for new medications to treat cancer, bacterial infections, viruses, heart disease, pain, and other ailments.

The seas contain an uncounted number of species of plants and animals. These creatures provide a vast storehouse of chemical compounds unknown on land. An ocean commission report lists chemicals and biological materials from marine organisms now in use or development, including 10 anti-cancer drugs, drugs to fight inflammation, fungus, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and dengue.

Natural Cures

A number of marine creatures have been used successfully in medical research and testing.

Skate.

Skate.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

The list is plentiful even though 95 percent of the ocean has yet to be explored. Exotic, hard-to-reach places, such as deep-sea hot vents and seabed sediments, have barely been documented. However, as advances in ocean exploration and underwater technology open new depths to scientists, the ocean’s potential as a biochemical resource has become more apparent.

Coral and sponges.

Coral and sponges.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

“Bioprospecting” with NOAA

To uncover medical mysteries of the deep, NOAA has partnered with “bioprospecting” scientists to find marine organisms with chemical compounds capable of treating human diseases. With NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration, experts ashore are connected live to the ship as it maps the ocean and collects ocean specimens, some with potential medical and economic benefits.

With an increasing number of specimens collected from a variety of ocean projects, scientists may find that the ocean could become the biological focus for discovering 21st century medicines.

The Future of Marine Science

In the future, marine ecosystems could represent an increasingly important source of medical treatments, nutritional supplements, pesticides, cosmetics, and other commercial products. Drugs from the ocean are without question one of the most promising new directions of marine science today. NOAA logo.