Aberdeen scientists are to explore seas off the coast of West Africa, in research that could lead to the discovery of new treatments for diseases including cancer and MRSA.
Experts from the University of Aberdeen’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre and the Division of Applied Medicine will travel to Ghana next month to search waters for unique marine organisms which could be used to develop new medicines.
This is the first time a systematic exploration of marine organisms off the West African coast has taken place, and scientists anticipate their expedition will reveal previously undiscovered species of corals, sponges and sea squirts.
Once collected they will examine these organisms for new molecules, bacteria and fungi which could be used in drug development.
The creation of new treatments for diseases prevalent in Africa - including tuberculosis and parasitic diseases such as malaria — will be a key focus of their work.
Professor Marcel Jaspars, Director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre said: “Drug discovery work in West Africa has historically focused on land, investigating how molecules in plants can be used in the development of new medicines.
“Our project marks the first time waters off the coast of West Africa have been explored to assess the diversity of marine organisms available in this area, and the potential they could harbour in the treatment of a number of diseases.
“We will be collecting samples at low tide around the Gulf of Guinea and Guinea Basin, where we believe we will find entirely new species of sponges, soft corals and seasquirts.
“We will then extract molecules, bacteria and fungi from these organisms and test their potential to be used in the development of new medicines — in particular for the treatment of diseases which are prevalent in Africa such as fungal and bacterial infections, including tuberculosis, and parasitic diseases and cancer.”
Scientists from Aberdeen’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre will work with colleagues from the University of Ghana during the trip, which marks the beginning of a three year collaborative project between the two institutions.
The £1.6 million Marine Biodiscovery Centre — which brings together chemists and biologists to work on the development of new pharmaceuticals from organisms from the depths of the world’s oceans — opened in June this year.
It is one of only three in Europe dedicated to the exploration of the natural resources from our seas.
It is intended the collaborative project in Ghana will culminate in the development of a facility at the University of Ghana which will allow them to conduct their own research into the development of pharmaceuticals from marine organisms.
The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and co-ordinated by the Royal Society.
Professor Jaspars said: “Over the course of the next three years we will be sharing the strong knowledge and expertise we have in Aberdeen with our colleagues at the University of Ghana so that in time they can develop their own research facility which mirrors the capabilities of the University of Aberdeen’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre.”